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French court scales back charges in Lafarge Syria finance case

French court scales back charges in Lafarge Syria finance case
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PARIS: A French court on Thursday quashed a charge of complicity in crimes against humanity against cement giant Lafarge over alleged payments to Islamist militants in Syria, but kept other key accusations in place including terrorism financing.

The case revolves around the operations of Lafarge in Syria between 2011 and 2015, during the first phase of the country’s civil war which saw the rise of Islamic State (IS) militants.

The French company is suspected of paying nearly 13 million euros ($14.4 million) to IS and other militant groups to keep the Jalabiya factory in northern Syria running, long after other French companies had pulled out of Syria.

The Paris court of appeal canceled the indictment for “complicity in crimes against humanity” but retained the charges over “financing of terrorism”, “violating an embargo” and putting the lives of workers in danger, lawyers and a judicial source told AFP.

The charging of Lafarge with complicity in charges against humanity in June 2018 had been applauded by rights groups as the first time a company had faced such an indictment.

The company, which merged in 2015 in which Swiss group Holcim, has acknowledged that the supervision of its Syrian subsidiary failed to identify breaches of internal rules, but denies that the group as a whole was to blame.

“The court has come to the same conclusion as us, that there are no elements to charge Lafarge for this crime” of crimes against humanity, its lawyers Christophe Ingrain and Remi Lorrain said in a statement.

The inquiry has raised questions about what exactly the French authorities knew about the cement maker’s dealings in Syria and whether it had turned a blind eye to it or even encouraged such activities in order to maintain its operations in Syria

Eight former executives, including ex-CEO Bruno Laffont, have already been charged in 2017 with financing a terrorist group and/or endangering the lives of others over Lafarge’s activities in Syria between 2011 and 2015.

According to lawyers, the charges were lessened against the company’s former security chief Jean-Claude Veillard, but the other indictments were kept in place.

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