A view of a Lafarge Cement plant is seen in Paris, France on September 8, 2021.
Julien Mattia | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Lafarge SA on Tuesday pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $777.8 million to resolve a U.S. federal criminal charge related to the French company’s payments to ISIS and another terror group to keep a cement plant operating in Syria.
The $10.24 million in payments to ISIS, the al-Nusrah Front and intermediaries were made from August 2013 through October 2014, and occurred even as the terror group was kidnapping and killing Westerners.
“Lafarge has admitted and taken responsibility for its staggering crime,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in a statement. “Never before has a corporation been charged with providing material support and resources to foreign terrorist organizations.”
Peace’s office said Lafarge Cement Syria executives bought materials needed for their cement plant in the Jalabiyeh region of northern Syria from ISIS-controlled suppliers, and paid monthly “donations” to ISIS and ANF, so that employees, customers and suppliers could cross checkpoints around the plant.
Lafarge Cement Syria “eventually agreed to make payments to ISIS based on the volume of cement that LCS sold to its customers, which Lafarge and LCS executives likened to paying ‘taxes,'” Peace’s office said.
An indictment against Lafarge and its defunct Syrian subsidiary was unsealed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, charging them with one count of conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, Lafarge pleaded guilty and was sentenced at a hearing there.
No individuals have been charged in the case, but authorities said their investigation is ongoing.
“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, seeking ISIS’s assistance to hurt Lafarge’s competition in exchange for a cut of Lafarge’s sales,” Peace said.
Lafarge was purchased by Switzerland-based Holcim in 2015.
In a statement, Lafarge said, “Lafarge SA and [Lafarge Cement Syria] have accepted responsibility for the actions of the individual executives involved, whose behavior was in flagrant violation of Lafarge’s Code of Conduct.
“We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve this matter,” Lafarge said.
Holcim in a statement to CNBC said it supports the plea agreement that Lafarge reached with the DOJ.
“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,” Holcim said in that statement.
“The DOJ noted that former Lafarge SA and [Lafarge Cement Syria] executives involved in the conduct concealed it from Holcim before and after Holcim acquired Lafarge SA, as well as from external auditors,” Holcim said.
“When Holcim learned of the allegations from media reports in 2016, Holcim proactively and voluntarily conducted an extensive investigation, led by a major U.S. law firm and overseen by the Board of Directors. It publicly disclosed the principal investigative findings in 2017 and separated from former Lafarge SA and LCS executives who were involved in these events.”
Lafarge was indicted by French authorities in 2018 in connection with the ISIS payments on charges of being complicit in crimes against humanity.
In its statement Tuesday, Lafarge said it “continues to cooperate fully with the French authorities in their investigation of the conduct and will defend itself against any judicial actions that it regards as unjustified in the French proceedings.”
Holcim said in its statement that the DOJ has determined that it is not necessary to appoint an independent compliance monitor for Lafarge because Holcim has effective compliance and risk management controls to detect potential similar conduct.
Correction: Lafarge SA pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $777.8 million to resolve a U.S. federal criminal charge. An earlier version misstated the figure.