Lafarge lawsuit (re complicity in crimes against humanity in Syria)
Snapshot: In 2016, 11 former Syrian employees and two NGOs filed a criminal complaint before French courts against Lafarge, a cement company, for alleged abuses committed in Syria by its subsidiary such as buying raw material from diverse jihadists groups to maintain its business activities in Syria in the midst of the Syrian Civil War and compensating these groups for safe passage of workers and products. Lafarge is charged with complicity in war crimes, crimes against humanity, financing of a terrorist enterprise, and forced labour. The lawsuit is ongoing.
In November 2016, 11 former Syrian employees and two NGOs (Sherpa and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights’ (ECCHR)) filed a criminal complaint before French courts against the cement company, Lafarge, for alleged abuses committed in Syria by its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS).
Lafarge is charged for complicity in war crimes, crimes against humanity, financing of a terrorist enterprise, deliberate endangerment of people's lives and forced labour. These charges are based on facts occurring between 2011 and 2014 when Lafarge decided to maintain its business activities in Syria in the midst of the Syrian Civil War. In order to do so, the company allegedly bought raw material from diverse jihadists groups, among which ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), and allegedly negotiated safe passage of its workers and products in exchange for compensations amounting to 13 million euros.
In 2015, Lafarge merged with Holcim. Lafarge-Holcim immediately announced that its subsidiary Lafarge SA would appeal in an effort to challenge "offenses that do not fairly reflect (its) responsibilities."The plaintiffs are now demanding the opening of a compensation fund for all former employees of LCS and their families. In October 2018, the investigative magistrates seized part of Lafarge ex-executives’ severance payments, about 2.475 million euros.
In June 2017, the Paris Public Prosecutor opened an investigation for financing terrorism. On 28 June 2018, Lafarge was indicted by French investigative judges for complicity in crimes against humanity. It named as defendants the group Lafarge itself (98% shareholder of LCS), its Syrian subsidiary, two senior executives at the time (Bruno Lafont, and Bruno Pescheux) and its current CEO (Frédéric Jolibois).
In October 2019, the Paris appeals court dismissed the request of the two NGOs to be civil parties in the case. On 7 November 2019, a French appeal court dropped the crimes against humanity charges against the company. Sherpa and ECCHR appealed to the Supreme Court.
On 8 June 2021, the Supreme Court examined the case, in particular the dismissal of the crimes against humanity charges against Lafarge-Holcim and the admissibility of the two NGOs as plaintiffs.
On 7 September 2021, the French Supreme Court overturned the 2019 lower court decision that dismissed charges against Lafarge for complicity in crimes against humanity and the charges over endangering the lives of others . It asked the investigating magistrates to reconsider these charges.
On 18 May 2022, the Investigative Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeals reinstated the charge of "complicity in crimes against humanity" against Lafarge. The company is also charged with financing terrorism and endangering the lives of others. Holcim declared that it disagreed with the decision and will appeal to the French Supreme Court.
On 26 June 2023, French judges closed the investigation into Lafarge's activities relating to the financing of terrorism charge. Other allegations such as complicity in crimes against humanity and endangering the lives of others, remain under investigation.
The French Supreme Court postponed its decision regarding Lafarge's appeal. A hearing is scheduled to take place on 21 November 2023.
-France's Lafarge loses ruling in Syria 'crimes against humanity' case, AFP, 7 Sep 2021
- "French Court Investigates Lafarge’s Links to Terrorism in Syria", Asharq Al-Awsat, 7 Jun 2021
-"France's Lafarge has charge of crimes against humanity lifted: lawyers", Reuters, 7 Nov 2019
- “LafargeHolcim’s French unit under formal investigation over Syria activities”, Financial Times, 28 Jun 2018
- "Lafarge paid 13 million euros to armed groups to keep operating in Syria, rights group say", Emmanuelle Jarry, Reuters, 12 Dec 2017
- “France launches judicial inquiry into activities of Lafarge over allegations of financing terrorist enterprise & endangering lives in Syria", Reuters, 13 Jun 2017
- “LafargeHolcim's CEO resigns following evidence of the company's indirect financing of armed groups in Syria”, AFP, 16 May 2017
- “Lafarge Scandal Points to Difficulty for Businesses in War Zones”, New York Times, 24 Apr 2017
ECCHR and Sherpa:
- “Landmark Decision in Lafarge Case”, 28 Jun 2018
- Sherpa and ECCHR to appeal decision in Lafarge/Syria case at French Supreme Court, 7 Nov 2019
- "Submission from SHERPA and ECCHR on an indictment of Lafarge for complicity in crimes against humanity", 15 May 2018
- “Important step in the « Lafarge in Syria » case: Nomination of three investigative judges”, 13 Jun 2017
- “Lafarge in Syria: the conclusion of their internal report admitted the implication of the parent company”, 24 Apr 2017