Cement company Lafarge loses appeal in ISIS-linked crimes against humanity case

French court declines to dismiss charge that firm wilfully endangered lives by paying off militants to protect Syrian plant

Lafarge Cement Syria plant in Jalabiya, which the company has admitted it paid local militants to protect. AFP
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A Paris appeals court on Wednesday rejected a request by French cement maker Lafarge to dismiss charges of complicity in crimes against humanity and endangering lives for keeping a factory running in Syria after conflict broke out in the country.

Lafarge, which has been part of Swiss-listed Holcim since 2015, has been the subject of an investigation into its operations in Syria since 2016.

It is one of the most extensive corporate criminal proceedings in recent French legal history.

The cement maker has previously admitted, after an internal investigation, that its Syrian subsidiary paid armed groups to protect staff at the plant.

But it has rejected the charge that it was complicit in crimes against humanity because of its dealings with militant groups, including ISIS, in the area.

Holcim said it strongly disagreed with the Court of Appeal’s decision to retain complicity in crimes against humanity within the scope of an investigation.

It said it would lodge an appeal against the decision with France’s Supreme Court.

“The events concerning Lafarge SA were concealed from our board at the time of the merger in 2015 and go completely against our values,” Holcim said in a statement.

Wednesday’s ruling determined the scope of the charges but did not rule on the substance of the case.

Shares in Holcim were down more than 2.5 per cent after the ruling by the Paris appeals court.

The court said a note by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights about the charge was admissible.

Claire Tixeire of the ECCHR said the ruling was a victory for the human rights groups that are parties to the case.

“When serious crimes are committed, it is not only political and military leaders whose responsibility should be clarified, but also that of economic actors,” she said in a statement.

Should Lafarge be indicted, it would set a precedent because no French firm has been tried in connection to crimes against humanity.

Updated: May 18, 2022, 4:14 PM