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SYRIA

Lafarge bosses in French court over jihadist funding

Two senior executives at French-Swiss cement maker LafargeHolcim, including its former CEO, were charged on Friday over claims that top management turned a blind eye to payments to jihadists in Syria, a judicial source said.

Lafarge bosses in French court over jihadist funding
Photo: AFP

Lafarge is accused of paying the Islamic State group and other militants through a middleman between 2013 and 2014 so that the company's factory in Jalabiya, northern Syria, could continue to operate despite the war.

Four people had already been charged over the case.

At Friday's hearings in Paris, Bruno Lafont, chief executive from 2007 to 2015, and the group's former Syria chief Christian Herrault, appeared in court and were charged with “financing a terrorist organisation and “endangering the lives of others” and remanded in custody.

On Thursday Eric Olsen, who took over from Lafont as CEO after the company merged with Switzerland's Holcim,  was charged with the same crimes.

The three men have been in detention since Wednesday.

Three former officials at the Jalabiya factory were charged in the case last week.

Lafarge's Syrian subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) paid out some $5.6 million (4.7 million euros) between July 2012 and September 2014, according to a report commissioned by LafargeHolcim and seen by AFP.

Of this, more than half a million dollars went to Isis, according to the April report by US consultants Baker McKenzie.

Herrault acknowledged earlier this year that Lafarge was involved in a “racket”, adding that he kept Lafont “regularly informed”, according to the report.

But Lafont has denied that he knew what was happening, saying things had appeared to be “under control”.

LCS is also suspected of using fake consulting contracts to buy fuel from Isis, which took control of most of Syria's strategic oil reserves in June 2013.

The factory's former manager Frederic Jolibois, who is among those charged, has admitted to buying oil from “non-governmental organisations”, notably Kurdish and Islamist groups, in violation of the EU embargo declared in 2011.

Lafarge hung on in Syria for two years after most French companies had left as Isis made major territorial gains, most of which the jihadists have since lost.

Investigators are also trying to determine whether Lafarge failed to ensure the security of its Syrian staff who stayed behind after management left the country in the summer of 2012.

READ ALSO: French-Swiss cement maker made 'unacceptable errors' in Syria, says chairman

JIHADISTS

French families sue government over children of jihadists stuck in Syria

The families of several children and wives of French jihadist fighters in Syria have filed lawsuits against France's top diplomat over his refusal to let them come to France.

French families sue government over children of jihadists stuck in Syria
Two detained French women who fled the Islamic State group's last pocket in Syria sit with their children . AFP

The suits, filed in July and September, accuse Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of “failing to provide aid” to people in “danger” at camps operated by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria.

The complaints were filed with the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), which hears cases over alleged misconduct by former or serving ministers.

It is the latest legal challenge to France's longstanding opposition to allowing the children and wives of suspected jihadists in Syria or Iraq to return home.

The government, which says it considers requests on a case-by-case basis only, has brought back just 17 children since March, many of them orphans.

Critics say the policy exposes innocent victims of the war, many of whom have suffered serious trauma during the fighting and coalition bombardments, to long-term psychological risks.

“The policy of 'case by case' keeps more than 200 children and their mothers exposed to inhumane and degrading treatment, and at risk of death,” the lawyers said

They note that Kurdish officials are also pressing European governments to repatriate citizens who went to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria, as well as their family members.

“It's a political choice not to save these children and mothers being held arbitrarily,” one of the lawyers, Marie Dose, told AFP.

Asked about the lawsuit, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a statement that France remained “fully mobilised so that each situation is handled with the children's interests in mind.”

“Our priority is to ensure the return of the most vulnerable orphan or isolated children,” she added.

A similar lawsuit was filed against France last May at the European Court of Human Rights, by the grandparents of two children stranded with their French jihadist mother in Syria.

The boy and girl, who were born in Syria, are among an estimated 500 children of French citizens who joined the Islamic State's so-called “caliphate” before the jihadists' last Syrian redoubt was overrun in March.

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