French cement company,Lafarge SA, will have to pay a $778 million fine after pleading guilty to providing material support to Islamic State and other terror groups during the Syrian civil war.
The ruling was made by the US Justice Department on Tuesday,October 18th.
Lafarge acknowledged it had paid millions of euros to middlemen to keep its Syrian cement factory running in 2013 and 2014, long after other firms had pulled out of the country. The Justice Department branded this as an “unthinkable choice.”
A French court had earlier this year ruled that the company was aware that much of the money being made had gone to finance Islamic State operations.
Lafarge SA and its defunct subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations in Syria.
US Attorney Breon Peace blasted Lafarge’s actions in a Justice Department statement.
“In the midst of a civil war, Lafarge made the unthinkable choice to put money into the hands of ISIS, one of the world’s most barbaric terrorist organizations, so that it could continue selling cement,” Peace said.
“Lafarge did this not merely in exchange for permission to operate its cement plant-which would have been bad enough-but also to leverage its relationship with ISIS for economic advantage.”
Lafarge invested 680 million euros in the construction of its plant in Syria, which was completed in 2010;just a year before the outbreak of the ongoing war that is estimated to have killed more than half a million people.
Human right activists have expressed hopes that the case would serve as a bellwether for prosecuting multinationals being accused of turning a blind eye to terrorist operations in exchange for continuing to operate in war-torn countries
In its own statement, Lafarge said: “Lafarge SA and LCS have accepted responsibility for the actions of the individual executives involved, whose behaviour was in flagrant violation of Lafarge’s Code of Conduct.
“We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the US Department of Justice to resolve this matter.”
Holcim Group, the Swiss conglomerate which took over Lafarge in 2015, said the US Justice Department had cleared it of any wrongdoing during the investigation.
It said it only learned of the allegations in 2016, and launched its own probe and cooperated with US justice authorities.
“None of the conduct involved Holcim, which has never operated in Syria, or any Lafarge operations or employees in the United States, and it is in stark contrast with everything that Holcim stands for,” it said in a separate statement.
The company statements came shortly before a planned press conference by Justice Department officials in New York to announce the settlement of the longstanding case.
Shares of Holcim were temporarily suspended on the Swiss stock exchange after news of the fine emerged.