The company is accused by the French justice of having financed tens of thousands of dollars to armed groups, including the Islamic State, in 2013 and in 2014.
In Brussels, the federal police raided the premises of Groupe Bruxelles Lambert (GBL), the second largest shareholder of LafargeHolcim (9.43%), behind Swiss billionaire Thomas Schmidheiny (11.4%).
The holding company, controlled by Albert Frère and the Canadian Desmarais family, said in a statement that its premises on Marnix Avenue had been searched and that it cooperated “fully in the investigation related to Lafarge’s activities in Sri Lanka “. According to a judicial source quoted by AFP, “investigators are trying to find out if Groupe Bruxelles Lambert could have been aware of the activities of the cement manufacturer in Syria “.
Stay at all costs in Syria?
The case was made public in June 2016 by the French Le Monde . It relates to the practice of bribing armed groups in Syria to ensure the safety of employees of Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS). The cement plant had just been put into operation when the Syrian war began.
Built in Jalabiya, 87 km from Raqqa , the cement factory was found between several front lines, held by Kurdish rebels, the Free Syrian Army, the al-Nusra Front (linked to Al Qaeda) and later, in 2014, by the Islamic State.
Lafarge was in regular contact with the French authorities, including the Quai d’Orsay, between 2011 and 2014, to gauge the security of the site. Despite the fighting that was getting closer, the local management of the plant, supported by the leaders of the group, decided to keep the plant in operation “in order to maintain a strategic advantage in the perspective of the reconstruction of the country “, Le Monde said last September, based on the French customs investigation.
$ 20,000 a month in Daesh
To stay in place, Lafarge (which will merge with the Swiss Holcim in 2015) has paid hundreds of thousands of euros to several armed groups, including about $ 20,000 a month to the Islamic State. A Syrian businessman, Firas Tlass, son of the former Defense Minister of President Hafez al-Assad, was in charge of playing the matchmaker.
Daesh finally attacked the cement plant on September 19, 2014, causing its last employees to flee. Expatriates had been evacuated as early as July 2012.
All of this could fall foul of the terrorist financing charge and the violation of the sanctions regime imposed in October 2013 by the European Council on certain terrorist groups.
According to AFP, French investigators also suspect LCS of having, under cover of false consultancy contracts, supplied oil to the IS, which had taken control of the majority of the strategic reserves from June 2013 in Syria.
The case also caused a stir within the Lafarge shareholders who thanked Eric Olsen, the boss of the group in April 2017. Two representatives of GBL, Paul Desmarais junior and the Belgian Gérard Lamarche, sit on the board of directors of the cement group.
Last March, LafargeHolcim recognized its “unacceptable” practices in Syria and announced the creation of an Ethics, Integrity and Risks Committee. Firas Tlass was arrested on October 19 in Dubai. His sister, always shareholder like him of LCS, denounces a cabal.