NEW YORK (Dispatches) -- French cement maker Lafarge pleaded guilty on Tuesday to U.S. charges of supporting Daesh by keeping a factory running in Syria after conflict broke out in 2011, according to a court hearing.
The admission in Brooklyn federal court marked the first time a company has pleaded guilty in the United States to charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization. Lafarge, which became part of Swiss-listed Holcim in 2015, is also facing charges of complicity in crimes against humanity in Paris.
The cement maker previously admitted after an internal investigation that its Syrian subsidiary paid armed groups to help protect staff at the plant. But it had denied charges that it was complicit in crimes against humanity.
Holcim has said that events concerning Lafarge’s Syria plant go against its values and were concealed from the board at the time of the 2015 merger.
Rights groups in France in 2017 accused Lafarge of paying 13 million euros ($12.79 million) to armed groups including Daesh terrorists to keep operating in Syria between 2011 and 2015.
A report published by the French daily Liberation in July 2021 said French intelligence officials were aware of the agreement between Lafarge and Daesh in the summer of 2014.
A document from the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), published by Liberation, showed that the state “was well aware of the conditions under which Lafarge maintained its activity in Syria in territory partly occupied by” Daesh. “It is a document that leaves no room for doubt,” the paper said.
According to the deal, Daesh allowed Lafarge to maintain its operations in Jalabiya in northern Syria in exchange for 13 million euros.
In June 2018, Lafarge was charged with complicity in crimes against humanity and financing a terrorist organization over payments it made to militant groups in Syria.
However, an appeals court dropped the crimes against humanity charges in November 2019, after finding four rights organizations - Sherpa, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Chredo and Life for Paris - could not act as plaintiffs in the case.
The cement giant was accused of paying armed groups, including Daesh, millions of dollars through middlemen in an effort to keep its factory in Syria’s Jalabiya open. It was also accused of selling cement from the factory to Daesh.