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French intelligence implicated as company charged with crimes against humanity over alleged payments to Isis

FRENCH intelligence has been implicated during a court case in which cement giant Lafarge has been accused of crimes against humanity involving alleged payments to armed groups in Syria, including Isis.

The country’s Court of Cassation ruled on Tuesday that the French company could face charges after it was accused of paying nearly €13 million (£11m) to jihadist groups to keep its factory running when conflict began in 2011.

It overturned a previous decision by a lower court that had dismissed claims brought against Lafarge — which merged with Swiss company Holcim in 2015 — by human rights groups.

Lafarge has previously admitted to paying so-called “middlemen” to negotiate with armed groups to enable the movement of staff and goods inside Syria.

But it denies responsibility for the money making its way to jihadist groups and has sought to have the charges against it dropped.

The Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and France’s Sherpa claims that the company also traded in oil and other raw materials with the jihadist groups.

A Paris court found in 2019 that the payments made by Lafarge were not aimed at enabling Isis to carry out extrajudicial executions and torture in Syria, striking out the charge of crimes against humanity.

But it found the company could be charged with “financing terrorism, violating an EU embargo and endangering the lives of others.”

The Court of Cassation heard a challenge made by former employees of Lafarge’s Syrian subsidiary and found that “one can be complicit in crimes against humanity even if one doesn’t have the intention of being associated with the crimes committed.

“Knowingly paying several million dollars to an organisation whose sole purpose was exclusively criminal suffices to constitute complicity, regardless of whether the party concerned was acting to pursue a commercial activity,” it added.

Eight of the company’s executives, including former CEO Bruno Laffont, are also charged with financing a terrorist group and endangering the lives of others. 

Documents show that French intelligence was aware of Lafarge’s relationship with Isis. The papers included a 2014 email sent by the company’s security director Jean-Claude Veillard to the Interior Ministry’s intelligence directorate.

He said that Lafarge needed links with “local actors” to keep its operations running in Syria, including the sale of cement to armed gangs, including al-Nusra.

In 2018 an intelligence officer code-named AM02 appeared in court and admitted that Lafarge was their main source of information in the country.

“We approached the situation purely opportunistically, taking advantage of Lafarge’s continued work,” the official said.

More than 30 meetings took place between Lafarge and the French domestic, foreign, and military intelligence services between 2013 and 2014 alone.

Isis used the cement sold by Lafarge to build fortified shelters and tunnel networks as it swept to power in vast swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

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