France launches probe into LafargeHolcim’s Syrian activities

France launches probe into LafargeHolcim’s Syrian activities

PARIS - Agence France-Presse
France launches probe into LafargeHolcim’s Syrian activities

AFP photo

France has launched a judicial inquiry into the Syrian activities of French-Swiss cement and construction giant LafargeHolcim, Paris prosecutors said on June 13.     

Three judges -- one dealing with anti-terrorism matters and two financial judges -- would handle the probe, which was opened on June 9 and would look into the “financing of a terrorist enterprise” and “endangering lives,” the prosecutors said.

Earlier this year, LafargeHolcim admitted that it had resorted to “unacceptable practices” to continue operations at one of its now-closed factories in Syria, and an internal probe had confirmed that finding.

In January, sources close to the case told AFP that the French government had filed a legal complaint against Lafarge for buying oil in Syria to power the Jalabiya factory, in violation of sanctions.

French cement maker Lafarge bought the factory in 2007 and invested some $680 million to get it working by 2010, representing the biggest foreign investment in the country outside the petroleum sector.

The plant, located in northern Syria some 150 kilometers (95 miles) northeast of Aleppo, was finally evacuated in 2014, and closed down before Lafarge merged with its Swiss competitor Holcim in 2015.

Lafarge is suspected of sourcing oil locally to operate the factory in defiance of a 2012 EU ban on purchases of Syrian oil as part of a sanctions package targeting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to an investigative piece published in French daily Le Monde last year, Lafarge entered into deals with armed groups in Syria to protect its business interests there.

In April, LafargeHolcim said its chief executive Eric Olsen would step down on July 15, even though the internal probe had determined he was not responsible for any wrongdoings.