The United States Government has slammed a heavy fine around the tune of $778m on French cement giant Lafarge.
According to the US Justice Department said on Tuesday, Lafarge had admitted to providing material support to Islamic State and other terror groups during the Syrian civil war.
The Justice Department has called Lafarge’s decision to keep its cement facility in Syria operational in 2013 and 2014, after most other companies had left the country, an “unthinkable option.”
According to AFP, the firm admitted that it paid millions of euros to middlemen to make this possible.
A French court found earlier this year that the firm knew the money had been used to fund Islamic State’s operations.
Lafarge SA and its defunct subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria “have agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations in Syria,” the company said.
Also, US Attorney Breon Peace berated the firm’s actions in a Justice Department statement.
“In the midst of a civil war, Lafarge made the unthinkable choice to put money into the hands of ISIS, one of the world’s most barbaric terrorist organizations, so that it could continue selling cement,” Peace said.
“Lafarge did this not merely in exchange for permission to operate its cement plant — which would have been bad enough — but also to leverage its relationship with ISIS for economic advantage.”
Lafarge spent 680 million euros building its facility in Syria, which was finished in 2010 – just a year before the start of the continuing conflict, which is thought to have killed over 500,000 people.
Rights groups have expressed optimism that the case may be used as a barometer for prosecuting multinational corporations accused of ignoring terrorist operations in exchange for carrying on business in conflict zones.
In its own statement, Lafarge said: “Lafarge SA and LCS have accepted responsibility for the actions of the individual executives involved, whose behaviour was in flagrant violation of Lafarge’s Code of Conduct.
“We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the US Department of Justice to resolve this matter.”
The Swiss corporation Holcim Group, which acquired Lafarge in 2015, claimed the US Justice Department had exonerated it of all charges.
It said that the charges were only made known to it in 2016, after which it opened an inquiry of its own and worked with US judicial officials.
“None of the conduct involved Holcim, which has never operated in Syria, or any Lafarge operations or employees in the United States, and it is in stark contrast with everything that Holcim stands for,” it said in a separate statement.
The business announcements came just before a scheduled news briefing in New York by Justice Department representatives to announce the resolution of the long-running case.
Following the revelation of the fine, shares of Holcim were momentarily suspended on the Swiss stock exchange.