French cement giant admits ‘unacceptable practices’ at Syria plant
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LafargeHolcim, a French cement maker, admitted on Thursday that it had paid armed groups in Syria to continue its local operations.
In a statement released Thursday after an internal investigation, the company says it “provided funds to third parties to work out arrangements” with a “number of armed groups, including sanctioned parties”.
The company explains that “different armed factions controlled or sought to control the areas around the plant”, which posed security challenges. Payments were therefore made to various armed groups “in order to maintain operations and ensure safe passage of employees and supplies to and from the plant”.
“In hindsight, the measures required to continue operations at the plant were unacceptable,” the statement reads.
The plant, which was some 150 kilometres northeast of Aleppo, was ultimately evacuated in 2014 closed in 2015 after Lafarge merged with Switzerland’s Holcim.
In 2016 French daily Le Monde reported that Lafarge negotiated with Syrian armed groups to protect its business interests there.
The report was followed later that year by a lawsuit that was launched against Lafarge by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the French anti-corruption NGO Sherpa, and a group of Syrians who used to work for the company.
The French government also filed a legal complaint against Lafarge for buying oil in Syria to power its Jalabiya factory.
Sourcing local oil to operate the plant would have been a violation of EU sanctions passed in 2012 banning purchase of Syrian oil. The sanctions package was intended to target the operations of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.