The French cement group Lafarge has pleaded guilty this Tuesday in a court in Manhattan (New York) of the accusations that it provided material support and resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Al-Nusrah Front (ANF). As a senior manager of the group told the directors of its Syrian subsidiary, they were “ready to share the cake, if there is a cake”. In other words, the company reached agreements with ISIS and the ANF to pay a revolutionary tax and share part of its profits with terrorist groups in the midst of the Syrian civil war in exchange for continuing to operate in the country. The district judge has sentenced the company and its subsidiary in Syria to pay a total of 777.78 million dollars in fines, as reported by the United States Department of Justice in a statement.
The prosecutor in charge of the case, Breon Peace, has pointed out the exceptional nature of the sentence: “Today, Lafarge has admitted and assumed responsibility for his astonishing crime. Never before has a company been accused of providing material support and resources to foreign terrorist organizations. This unprecedented indictment and resolution reflects the extraordinary crimes committed and demonstrates that corporations that take action against our national security interests, in violation of the law, will be held accountable,” he said in a statement.
Lafarge, which was subsequently bought by Switzerland’s Holcim, operated a cement plant in the Jalabiyeh region of northern Syria through Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS), its subsidiary in the country, from May 2010 to September 2014. After the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Lafarge, which had invested some 680 million dollars in that plant, negotiated agreements to pay the armed factions in the war to protect the employees of LCS, to ensure the continued operation of the Jalabiyeh cement company and to gain an economic advantage over its competitors in the Syrian market, according to the Justice Department.
Emails from that time have revealed that Lafarge executives were acting for economic reasons. The managers used their personal accounts instead of those of the company to try to leave no trace of their conspiracy, but many of them have now been used as evidence, including the one from July 23, 2014, which spoke of “dividing the cake” .
Lafarge bought the raw materials needed to make cement from suppliers controlled by ISIS and paid a kind of monthly revolutionary tax to armed groups, including ISIS and the ANF, so that employees, customers and suppliers could pass through ISIS checkpoints. armed groups on the roads surrounding the Jalabiyeh plant. ISIS provided Lafarge workers with safe-conducts that have been used as evidence in the case. They also agreed to make payments to ISIS based on the volume of cement the company sold to its customers, which officials likened to paying “taxes.”
Neutralize the competition
Lafarge not only tried to ensure security, but also paid ISIS to neutralize the competition. As a condition of the revenue-sharing deal, executives sought the terror group’s help in imposing costs on competitors selling imported Turkish cement in northern Syria, which was often sold cheaper than cement produced at the plant. Jalabiyeh cement.
The executives made it clear to intermediaries dealing with ISIS that they expected the terror group to take action against Lafarge’s competitors, either by stopping the sale of imported Turkish cement, or by taxing competing cement so that Lafarge could sell at higher prices. price.
From August 2013 to October 2014, Lafarge paid ISIS and ANF, through intermediaries, the equivalent of $5.92 million, both in fixed monthly payments as “donations” and in payments to vendors controlled by ISIS for the purchase of raw materials and in variable payments for the amount of cement sold. Lafarge and its subsidiary also paid $1.11 million to third party intermediaries.
When Lafarge finally evacuated the Jalabiyeh cement plant in September 2014, ISIS took possession of the cement produced and sold it for around $3.2 million. According to the Justice Department, as a result of the scheme, Lafarge achieved $70.3 million in total sales revenue from August 2013 through 2014. “Profits from all participants in the conspiracy, including LCS, brokers and terrorist groups, amounted to approximately 80.54 million dollars”, he adds.
Holcim and Lafarge have admitted the facts and have reached an agreement so that the sanction was that. The Swiss group that owns Lafarge said in a statement that “none of the conduct implicated Holcim, which has never operated in Syria, or any Lafarge operation or employee in the United States, and is in stark contrast to everything Holcim stands for.” . He also points out that the former executives of Lafarge and its Syrian subsidiary involved hid these facts from him before and after he bought the company.
The Swiss group explains that when it learned of the accusations through the media in 2016, it “proactively and voluntarily” carried out an extensive investigation, led by a US law firm and supervised by the Council of Administration, which publicly disclosed the main findings of the investigation in 2017 and dismissed the former executives of Lafarge and its Syrian subsidiary who were involved in these events.
“In the midst of a civil war, Lafarge made the unthinkable decision to put money in the hands of ISIS, one of the most barbaric terrorist organizations in the world, in order to continue selling cement,” Prosecutor Peace said in his statement. “Lafarge did this not only in exchange for permission to operate its cement plant — which would have been bad enough — but also to leverage its relationship with ISIS for financial advantage, seeking ISIS’s help in harming Lafarge’s competition by exchange for part of the sales”, he added.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco added, “In today’s world, corporate crime regularly intersects with national security in areas such as terrorist financing, sanctions evasion and cybercrime. Today, we see that intersection in its rawest form. Many of our cases expose corporate greed and corruption. But this time, corporate criminals have teamed up with terrorists instead of corrupt government officials.”
Lafarge also faces charges of complicity in crimes against humanity in Paris for keeping that factory running in Syria after the civil war broke out in 2011.