justice overturns prosecution for "complicity in crimes against humanity"

The indictments for "financing of terrorism" and "violation of an embargo" against the cement manufacturer are however maintained.

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The Jalabiya factory in northern Syria. DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP

This is a partial cancellation of the lawsuits, but a victory for the lawyers of Lafarge cement. The Court of Appeal of Paris canceled, Thursday, November 7, the indictment for "Complicity in crimes against humanity" Lafarge SA, accused of financing terrorist groups in Syria, to maintain the activity of one of its factories. A rebound at least as spectacular as the indictment of the cement manufacturer in June 2018. At the time, it was a world first for a company of this size.

This decision of the Paris Court of Appeal is the culmination of a year of proceedings: a motion for a declaration of invalidity was issued at the end of 2018 by the cement firm's lawyers. Their success is, however, only partial, as the Appellate Division of the Court of Appeal has upheld the indictments of the cement "Financing of terrorism", "Violation of an embargo" and "Endangering life" former employees of its Jalabiya factory. That is the essence of this sensitive file that has been the subject of a judicial inquiry since June 2017 and where eight people remain indicted.

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"The investigating chamber has made the same observation as us, namely that there is no evidence justifying the indictment of Lafarge SA for this crime", congratulated the lawyers of the cement group, Me Christophe Ingrain and Rémi Lorrain. "The court recognizes that Lafarge has never participated in any way in a crime against humanity" and "Corrected a totally unfounded decision" Judges of instruction of the financial and antiterrorist poles of the court of Paris, they added at the announcement of this decision of the court of appeal which intervenes five months after the hearing where the debates had taken place.

During this hearing, in June, in addition to Lafarge SA, three group leaders challenged their indictment: former CEO Bruno Lafont, former safety director of the company Jean-Claude Veillard and one of the former directors of the Syrian subsidiary, Frédéric Jolibois. Justice did not succeed, but Mr. Veillard obtained a reduction in charges against him while Mr. Jolibois saw, according to his lawyer Me Jean Reinhart, his custody canceled. Thing that will mechanically cause many "holes" in this complex legal file with huge financial stakes, where every word counts.

"Judicial defiance assumed"

This decision of the Court of Appeal comes after the lifting, in March, of the indictment for "Financing of terrorism" former LafargeHolcim CEO Eric Olsen. This former strongman of the cementist remains indicted for "Endangering the lives of others" but this decision began the counteroffensive of defense lawyers after long months of suffering revelations from the press. It is in fact following the information of the World in 2016, as well as complaints from several associations and the Ministry of Economy that the file had arrived in the hands of justice.

These defeats of defense also occur a few days after the associations (Sherpa and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights), at the origin of the complaints of 11 former Syrian employees, have seen their application for civil party dismissed as "inadmissible".

Exceptionally, on October 24, the Paris Court of Appeal considered that their "object of the company" was not in adequacy with the offenses under investigation. However, they intend to appeal in cassation. "It's a judicial mistrust of NGOs and civil society. But without them this file would not exist », said Sherpa's lawyer, Me Marie Dosé.

"Opportunistic" information collection

Since the beginning of the investigations, justice suspects the French group – which merged in 2015 with the Swiss Holcim – to have paid between 2011 and 2015, through its subsidiary LCS, nearly 13 million euros to terrorist groups, including the Islamic State (IS) organization. And this, in order to maintain the activity of a factory in the north of the country. These maneuvers, in addition to circumventing international sanctions, would have seriously endangered Syrian employees (extortion, kidnapping, etc.), according to several witnesses and employees who had lodged a complaint.

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More broadly, the investigation also looks at the role of French diplomacy and intelligence services in Lafarge's decision to stay in Syria. Some executives say they have been encouraged to stay on the spot by the Quai d'Orsay. What many diplomats have denied. A DGSI agent also confessed to collecting information "Opportunist" through Lafarge, but did not give "No instructions" in the country.

The indictment for "Complicity in crimes against humanity" for its part was canceled because, in law, it requires several prerequisites that were not fulfilled, according to a judicial source. Clearly, it would have been necessary for the investigation to be able to support both the funding of the IS, plus the "intent" to participate in a crime against humanity. In June 2018, the investigating judges had a different reasoning. They considered that this "intent" was characterized by the fact that Lafarge was aware of the crimes perpetrated by IS and that it contributed by financing various groups, some of which were affiliated to it.

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