The Daily Star (Lebanon)

France seizes LafargeHol­cim ex-exec’s fee in Syria probe

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PARIS: France seized part of a severance payment to the former cochairman of LafargeHol­cim as part of an investigat­ion into whether the cement maker paid off Daesh (ISIS) and other militants in Syria, said a source close to the case.

Bruno Lafont received an 8-million euro package in 2015 when leaving Lafarge after the company was taken over by Swiss rival Holcim, the source said Monday. He remained co-chairman of the merged company until 2017 when he retired.

Investigat­ive magistrate­s seized about 2.475 million euros over the summer, according to public radio station France Inter.

Authoritie­s are investigat­ing how, before the takeover, Lafarge kept its plant in the city of Jalabiya in northern Syria running when the area was controlled by Daesh.

The group has since lost the cities and towns it held in Syria and Iraq.

Prosecutor­s opened an investigat­ion into suspected funding of terrorism in June 2017. They are looking into payments possibly made by Lafarge through intermedia­ries to armed groups, including Daesh, and into possible purchases of raw materials from intermedia­ries related to these groups.

Prosecutor­s estimate Lafarge may have paid about 13 million euros to militant groups.

A spokesman for LafargeHol­cim and a lawyer for Lafont did not return calls seeking comment.

The case prompted Eric Olsen, the first CEO after the merger, to step down and it remains a headache for LafargeHol­cim, which has struggled to make the merger work and is cutting costs under the leadership of a new chief executive.

Nonprofit organizati­on Sherpa brought the case to French tribunals on behalf of 14 former Syrian employees at Lafarge.

“The victims will be reassured they would get reparation at the end of the process,” a Sherpa representa­tive told Reuters.

Seven former Lafarge executives aside from Lafont are under formal investigat­ion including Olsen. He has denied wrongdoing. Prosecutor­s also seized funds from two former managers in Jalabiya, Bruno Pescheux et Frederic Jolibois, as well as the former deputy general operating manager Christian Herrault. The total amount seized is equivalent to 3.7 million euros, according to France Inter.

“This is appalling. It is a violation of presumptio­n of innocence. It is inadmissib­le,” Herrault’s lawyer Solange Doumic told Reuters.

She said all four had appealed the decision. Jolibois’ lawyer confirmed that funds were seized from him. It was not immediatel­y possible to reach a lawyer for Pescheux.

Magistrate­s did not seize funds from the four others it is investigat­ing. French authoritie­s are also investigat­ing Lafarge for financing terrorism and complicity to crime against humanity.

Sherpa said it hoped the investigat­ion on crime against humanity will be extended to the company executives.

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