French-Swiss Company Admits Funding Militants in Syria

The Franco-Swiss cement giant LafargeHolcim has admitted that its staff in Syria paid armed groups in return for being able to operate one of its now-closed cement plants and ensuring the safety of its employees. The statement was made in reply to a legal complaint reportedly filed by two human rights groups in Paris against Lafarge, saying some of its work in Syria may have made it complicit in financing Islamic State and in war crimes.

Before the France-based company merged with the Swiss Holcim Group in 2015, it had operated a cement factory in Jalabiya in northern Syria until 2014, supplying a third of the country's market.

The company said it had funded the militants in order to ensure the security of its employees at a plant in north-eastern Syria, according to Le Monde newspaper.

Syria's deteriorating political situation posed "difficult challenges" for the plant operations and security of personnel as well as supplies and product distribution, LafargeHolcim said in the statement Thursday, the first since it unveiled a plan a year ago to investigate internally.

Sherpa claimed Lafarge and its local subsidiary made "arrangements" with IS to obtain passes buffered by the jihadist group and to buy oil and other raw materials needed to produce cement in IS-controlled areas of Syria.

Lafarge was also suspected of sourcing oil locally to operate the factory in defiance of a 2012 European Union ban on purchases of Syrian oil.

The group generated 638 million francs in synergy savings from the Holcim-Lafarge merger, more than expected, it said in a statement released in Switzerland. Lafarge stopped operating its $680-millon Syrian plant in September 2014.

Separately, LafargeHolcim on Thursday reported a net profit of 1.9 billion Swiss francs ($1.9 billion, 1.8 billion euros) for 2016, almost double the 970 million francs it made the previous year.

For 2017, the company said it expects demand to increase between 2% and 4%.

  • Zachary Reyes