Washington — French cement company Lafarge has pleaded guilty to one count of providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations, admitting in court papers on Tuesday that it paid individuals designated by the U.S. as terrorists in Syria to secure the continued operation and protection of a cement plant from 2013 to 2014.
The company has agreed to pay $778 million in fines and forfeiture as part of the plea deal.
Beginning in 2010, Lafarge operated the Jalabiyeh Cement Plant in the Jalabiyeh region of Northern Syria. According to the statement of offense, the company admitted that after civil war broke out in the country in 2011, executives and intermediaries devised a scheme to pay members of the the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and al-Nusrah Front (ANF) to secure the safe operation of the plant and generate profit.
The payments took many forms, the Justice Department said, including "a revenue-sharing agreement" between ISIS and the company that Lafarge executives likened to paying "taxes" to ISIS. The more cement the plant sold to its customers, the more money Lafarge would pay ISIS.
The cement company also made monthly "donations" that totaled $816,000 and "payments to ISIS-controlled suppliers to purchase raw materials needed to produce cement that totaled approximately $3,447,528," acccording to court documents.
The payments enabled Lafarge's Syrian subsidiary to get its employees and suppliers through ISIS and ANF checkpoints on the roads to the plant and block competitors from Turkey.
These funds — which secured both raw materials for production and protection for employees — violated federal law, the Justice Department said, and Lafarge was aware of their illegality. Their actions enabled the company to bring in approximately $70.3 million in revenue.
"In its pursuit of profits, Lafarge and its top executives not only broke the law — they helped finance a violent reign of terror that ISIS and al-Nusrah imposed on the people of Syria," Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Tuesday when the plea agreement was announced, "We expect far more from companies, particularly those that operate in high-risk environments.
Monaco added that, as public reports indicate, French authorities have already arrested executives implicated in the scheme.
"Lafarge and its leadership had every reason to know exactly with whom they were dealing — and they didn't flinch. Instead, Lafarge forged ahead, working with ISIS to keep operations open, undercut competitors, and maximize revenue. And all the while, through their support and funding, Lafarge enabled the operations of a brutal terrorist organization," Monaco said.
Court documents also detailed numerous communications between Lafarge executives and unnamed intermediaries who acted as middlemen between the French company and the terrorists. The company admitted to paying these individuals $1,113,324 for their cooperation and covert assistance.
On August 20, 2013, a company executives wrote in an email, "It is clear that we have an issue with ISIS and Al Nusra and we have asked our partner [Intermediary 1] to work on it," according to court documents. And in another email described in the plea papers, an intermediary wrote to a Lafarge executive that he "officially" represented ISIS "for investments."
"The defendants negotiated and made unlawful payments at a time when these groups were gaining territory and brutalizing innocent civilians in Syria and elsewhere and were actively plotting against Americans," said Matt Olsen, head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, "There is no justification – none – for a multi-national corporation authorizing payments to a designated terrorist group."
Lafarge's actions at issue were the subject of an independent review within the company that yielded a report and corrective measures.
According to the Holcim Group, the Swiss multinational company that acquired Lafarge in July 2015 , "None of the conduct involved Lafarge operations or employees in the United States and none of the executives who were involved in the conduct are with Lafarge or any affiliated entities today," noting none of the employees targeted in the federal probe were found to have shared any of terrorist organizations' ideologies.
In a written statement following Tuesday's resolution, Lafarge said, "[We] have accepted responsibility for the actions of the individual executives involved, whose behavior was in flagrant violation of Lafarge's Code of Conduct. We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve this matter."
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