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FRANCE ; SYRIE

French judges to probe Lafarge IS payoffs

A Lafarge lorry
A Lafarge lorry Reuters/Benoit Tessier

Three French judges have been put in charge of the investigation into cement-maker LafargeHolcim, which has admitted paying the Islamic State (IS) armed group and other militias to keep a plant operating in Syria.

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Two examining magistrates specialising in finance and one in terrorism are investigating the Franco-Swiss company over charges of financing terrorism and endangering people's lives.

Following revelations in Le Monde newspaper, the French Economy Ministry, 11 former employees and several NGOs filed legal complaints last autumn.

Lafarge, which merged with Swiss group Holcim in 2015, has admitted "indirectly" financing armed Syrian factions in 2013 and 2014 in order to keep a site in Jalabiya, northern Syria, operating.

It claimed it was reacting to threats to its employees and disruption to supplies needed to keep the cement works operating, as well as to the transport of its products.

The plaintiffs claim it put pressure on workers to go to the site despite the danger and did a deal with IS.

In April company boss Eric Olsen announced he would leave his job in July because of the scandal, although the board declared he could not be held responsible for what happened.

Lafarge says it will cooperate with the inquiry.

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