After two years of unprecedented investigation, and several indictments of Lafarge executives, it is now the company itself, as a legal entity, which has been indicted. Judges have maintained four charges: "financing of a terrorist organisation" and "deliberate endangerment of life" of employees, "violation of an embargo" and "complicity in crimes against humanity". This follows the logic supported by the NGO Sherpa and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). Their formal complaint in June 2017 triggered the release of judicial information.
A first in the world
The French group, which merged with Swiss Holcim in 2015, is suspected of having paid nearly €13 million between 2011 and 2015 to jihadist organisations. The goal was to maintain activity in its Jalabiya plant in northern Syria as the country broke out into war. According to the investigation, these sums included "tax" payments for the free movement of their employees and the purchase of goods and raw materials - including oil - from suppliers close to ISIS.
"Lafarge has sacrificed its employees and engaged with terrorist entities knowingly: it must respond judicially to its complicity in crimes against humanity," Marie Dosé, a lawyer from the NGO Sherpa, told AFP. Last May, the NGO wrote to the judges asking them to step up their responsibilities by maintaining the charge of "complicity in crimes against humanity". And that's what they did. Such a decision is, however, a first in the world for such a company.
Sherpa calls for compensation
Since the beginning of the investigation, eight managers and executives have been indicted, including Bruno Lafont, CEO of Lafarge from 2007 to 2015, for financing a terrorist company and/or endangering the lives of others. After the hearing on Thursday 28 June, judges went on to indict Lafarge SA, the 98% shareholder of the Syrian subsidiary, Lafarge Cement Syria.
"The indictment of Lafarge is a historic step in the fight against the impunity of multinationals, a fight in which Sherpa has been engaged for 17 years. This affair must set a precedent for all companies that fuel armed conflicts. Justice for thousands of victims of war-torn countries, including the Syrian plaintiffs, depends on it," says Sandra Cossart, director of Sherpa. The NGO is now demanding the opening of a compensation fund for all former employees of LCS (Lafarge Cement Syria) and their families.
The Lafarge-Holcim group, born out of the 2015 merger of French and Swiss Holcim, immediately announced that its subsidiary Lafarge SA would appeal in an effort to challenge "offenses that do not fairly reflect (its) responsibilities."
Béatrice Héraud @beatriceheraud with AFP