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Terrorism Financing Charge Upheld Against French Company Lafarge

The case could take months or even years to go to trial. All of the former Lafarge executives have denied the charges against them. If prosecuted, the executives could face penalties of up to 10 years in jail as well as fines.

It has riveted attention in France, where Lafarge has long been considered a corporate icon with international clout. Mr. Lafont’s successor as chief executive, Eric Olsen, resigned in 2017 after an internal inquiry, although Lafarge concluded that he was not responsible for, or aware of, the activity.

In the lawsuit, nearly a dozen former Syrian employees claimed that the company had ignored the risks they faced and pressured them to keep working while war bore down. They alleged that the company had put them in danger in part by making them pass through checkpoints held by ISIS and a rotating cast of other armed militants from 2011 to 2014, and by asking them to keep the plant running even as ISIS increased its deadly presence in the region.

According to French court documents reviewed by The New York Times as well as interviews with former employees, Lafarge is accused of funneling money to intermediaries who conducted negotiations with the Islamic State, as well as Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria and other armed factions, in order to move supplies and employees through dangerous areas and to secure raw materials.

All told, Lafarge agents paid more than $5 million to armed groups, according to the documents, which included statements to investigators by former Lafarge officials, testimony and witness accounts of former employees, company correspondence, and a confidential internal review of Lafarge’s Syria operations by the global law firm Baker McKenzie.

The investigation underscores the costs and complexity of doing business in war-torn regions, especially by companies in the energy and industrial sectors.

It is rare for international companies to face charges for crimes against humanity. Of a handful of cases brought in the past, most have been abandoned. Among them was a 2008 lawsuit brought by Burmese refugees against the French oil giant Total, which accused the company of providing support and financing to the Burmese junta that was accused of engaging in forced labor, executions and torture. The case, brought in a Belgian court, was dismissed.

Melissa Godin contributed reporting.

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