French cement maker Lafarge will pay more than three-quarters of a billion dollars after pleading guilty to US charges of providing material support to two designated terrorist groups, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
"Lafarge made a deal with the devil, foreign terrorists who pledged to, and in fact did, harm the United States, its people and its national security, and they did it for profit," Breon Peace, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, told reporters as the Justice Department announced the plea deal.
District Judge William Kuntz ordered Lafarge to pay more than $777 million in what is an unprecedented settlement in which a corporation has pled guilty in a US court to aiding two designated terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda's former Syrian offshoot, al-Nusra Front and Daesh/ISIS.
Lafarge paid the terror groups from 2013 through 2014 for protection and to allow the continued operation of a cement plant in northern Syria run by Lafarge's local subsidiary, Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS). In total, nearly $6 million was sent to the two groups, according to prosecutors.
The payments allowed the company's employees to pass through checkpoints surrounding the Jalabiyeh Cement Plant and the company "eventually agreed" to pay Daesh/ISIS based on the volume of cement it sold, which executives likened to paying "taxes," according to the Justice Department.
“The terrorism crimes to which Lafarge and its subsidiary have pleaded guilty are a vivid reminder of how corporate crime can intersect with national security,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement.
"This case sends the clear message to all companies, but especially those operating in high-risk environments, to invest in robust compliance programs, pay vigilant attention to national security compliance risks, and conduct careful due diligence in mergers and acquisitions," she added.
Holcim, which acquired Lafarge in 2015, said it supports the plea agreement and maintained "none of the conduct involved Holcim."
"It is in stark contrast with everything that Holcim stands for," the company said in a statement. "Lafarge SA and LCS 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."
Anadolu Agency was the first to report links between the payments and French intelligence services, obtaining in 2021 documents that showed Paris was aware that Lafarge was financing Daesh/ISIS.
The records indicated that the French intelligence agencies used Lafarge’s network with terror groups in Syria to acquire information from the region. They also revealed that French intelligence services did not warn the company that they were committing a crime.
According to the documents, the relations between Lafarge and French intelligence started Jan. 22, 2014, when the company’s security director Jean-Claude Veillard sent an e-mail to the Interior Ministry’s intelligence directorate.
Veillard said the company needs to maintain relations with “local actors” to be able to continue its operations in Syria. Recalling the negative news that appeared in the public about the company, he asked whether executives and the company were under threat.
The intelligence officer, in response, told Velliard that the issue would be addressed at a later date. The agent, who has been dubbed AM 02, appeared in court Nov. 18, 2018, and admitted Lafarge was his source of information in Syria.
“We approached the situation purely opportunistically, taking advantage of Lafarge’s continued work,” the individual testified.
The documents obtained by Anadolu Agency indicate that there were more than 30 meetings between Lafarge and French domestic, foreign and military intelligence services between 2013 and 2014.
Source: Anadolu Agency