PARIS: Two senior executives at French-Swiss cement maker LafargeHolcim, including its former CEO, faced possible charges Friday over claims that top management turned a blind eye to payments to jihadists in Syria.
Lafarge is accused of paying the Islamic State group and other militants through a middleman between 2013 and 2014 so that the company’s factory in Jalabiya, northern Syria, could continue to operate despite the war.
Four people have already been charged over the case, with Friday’s hearings considering how much the top echelons at the building materials giant knew.
Bruno Lafont, chief executive from 2007 to 2015, and the group’s former Syria chief Christian Herrault, were appearing in court in Paris Friday, a source close to the probe said.
Eric Olsen, who took over from Lafont as CEO after the company merged with Switzerland’s Holcim, was charged late Thursday with financing a terrorist group and endangering lives.
Prosecutors have now demanded that the other two senior executives be charged, with Lafont be placed in custody. The pair have been in detention since Wednesday alongside Olsen.
Three former officials at the Jalabiya factory were charged in the case last week.
Lafarge’s Syrian subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) paid out some US$5.6 million (4.7 million euros) between July 2012 and September 2014, according to a report commissioned by LafargeHolcim and seen by AFP.
Of this, more than half a million dollars went to IS, according to the April report by US consultants Baker McKenzie.
Herrault acknowledged earlier this year that Lafarge was involved in a “racket”, adding that he kept Lafont “regularly informed”, according to the report.
But Lafont has denied that he knew what was happening, saying things had appeared to be “under control”.
LCS is also suspected of using fake consulting contracts to buy fuel from IS, which took control of most of Syria’s strategic oil reserves in June 2013.
The factory’s former manager Frederic Jolibois, who is among those charged, has admitted to buying oil from “non-governmental organisations”, notably Kurdish and Islamist groups, in violation of the EU embargo declared in 2011.
Lafarge hung on in Syria for two years after most French companies had left as IS made major territorial gains, most of which they have since lost.
Investigators are also trying to determine whether Lafarge failed to ensure the security of its Syrian staff who stayed behind after management left Syria in the summer of 2012.