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France 'was aware of deal' between cement maker and Islamic State militants: Report

A document cited by a French newspaper reveals intelligence agencies were aware of transactions between the cement manufacturer and Islamic State group in Syria
This file photo taken on 7 April 7 2014 shows the logo on a plant of French cement company Lafarge in Paris (AFP)

French intelligence officials were aware of an agreement between the cement manufacturer Lafarge and the Islamic State militant (IS) group in Syria in the summer of 2014, according to a news report citing a confidential government document.

The report, published by the French daily Liberation on Tuesday, comes two days before the French Court of Cassation is due to decide on a number of charges against the company, including its indictment for "financing a terrorist organisation", "violating an embargo" and endangering the lives of employees.

A document from the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), published by Liberation, shows that the state "was well aware of the conditions under which Lafarge maintained its activity in Syria in territory partly occupied by the Islamic State."

"It is a document that leaves no room for doubt," the paper said.

The document is dated 26 August 2014 and labelled as "confidential defence". 

"An agreement was found between the cement manufacturer and IS for the continuation of the commercial activity," it read in French.

According to the deal, IS allowed Lafarge to maintain its operations in Jalabiya in northern Syria in exchange for 13 million euros ($15.3m).

Middle East Eye could not independently verify the authenticity of the document. The French government has yet to comment on the report.

‘Crimes against humanity’ charges debated

In June 2018, Lafarge was charged with complicity in crimes against humanity and financing a terrorist organisation over payments it made to militant groups in Syria.

However, an appeals court dropped the crimes against humanity charges in November 2019, after finding four rights organisations - Sherpa, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Chredo and Life for Paris - could not act as plaintiffs in the case.

Sherpa and ECCHR have since appealed to the Court of Cassation to have the "complicity in crimes against humanity" charges reinstated.

The cement giant is accused of paying armed groups, including IS, millions of dollars through middlemen in an effort to keep its factory in Syria’s Jalabiya open. It is also suspected of selling cement from the factory to IS.

The company was also charged with endangering its employees in Jalabiya, which lies between northern Syria’s Manbij and Raqqa. 

Lafarge has repeatedly denied its responsibility for payments made to militant groups in Syria.

During a hearing on 8 June before the Court of Cassation, Patrice Spinosi, a Lafarge lawyer, stressed that the firm’s only intention was "to continue the activity of the cement plant".

Lafarge, which merged with Swiss company Holcim in 2015 to become the world's largest cement maker, was ordered to give $35m to French authorities as a security deposit before the trial.