Ex-Lafarge boss charged with ‘endangering lives’ in Syria

A former human resources manager of cement giant Lafarge has been charged in France for "endangering the lives of others" during operations in war-torn Syria, sources told AFP on Saturday.

Ex-Lafarge boss charged with 'endangering lives' in Syria
Photo: AFP

Sonia Artinian, the group's HR director from September 2013 to July 2015, was not charged, however, with financing a terrorist organisation after being summoned last month by investigating judges in Paris.

The choice to cling on in Syria after other international firms fled the fighting has dragged Lafarge, a French company which merged with Swiss firm Holcim in 2015, into a spiral of scandal and recriminations that has embroiled the French state.

Judges are investigating allegations Lafarge funnelled some 13 million euros to armed fighters including Isis group jihadists to keep the factory working.

Following interviews, Artinian was indicted for “deliberately endangering the lives of others”, but granted “assisted witness” status on the terrorism financing charge.

Her lawyer, Benjamin Grundler, told AFP: “This decision confirms that my client is totally unaware of the alleged facts of financing of a terrorist organisation.”

Six former or current top Lafarge executives have been charged with financing a terrorist organisation.

Those bosses could also face prosecution for endangering the lives of their local Syrian employees after 11 of them filed their own lawsuit alleging Lafarge put the prospect of profits from rebuilding Syria after the war ahead of their safety.

In 2013, Syrian mechanic Yassin Ismail, employed at Lafarge's plant at Jalabiya since 2009, was detained by jihadist fighters from a group that would later change its name to the Islamic State.

After several months in captivity Ismail was executed, according to relatives and three former colleagues who spoke to AFP in the northern Syrian town of Ain Issa.

Another mechanic Abdul al-Homada, 35, was kidnapped in 2013 in the city of Aleppo — and later very likely killed — after heading there to pick up his salary, four of his former colleagues told AFP.

READ ALSO: Lafarge ex-CEO denies knowing of Syria payments until late

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French group to open two hotels in Damascus

France's Louvre Hotels Group has signed an agreement to open two hotels under its own name in Damascus, the first with a western hotel operator since Syria's brutal civil war began in 2011.

French group to open two hotels in Damascus
Louvre owns the Golden Tulip five-star brand. Photo: Louvre Hotels Group
The confirmation of the two hotels opening, after recent media reports, came a day after the UN announced an internal investigation into the bombing of hospitals in Syria, and as at least six civilians were killed by the Syrian regime and Russian fire in northwestern Idlib province in the past days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The region of around three million people, many of them displaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition fighting against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
The hotels “will open soon under the brand name of Louvres Hotels Group,” the company, which is owned by China's Jin
Jiang, said in a statement.
Louvre Hotels Group said the deal was signed between Syria's Nazha Investment Group and “a partner with whom Louvre Hotels cooperates in the Middle East”.
The exact number of people killed in Syria's war is unknown but hundreds of thousands have died.
Several dozen medical facilities with links to the UN have been damaged or destroyed by bombs this year. Russian has denied deliberately targeting civilian installations.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday said an internal inquiry would look into the bombing of hospitals in Syria which had previously flagged their coordinates to avoid air strikes.
“The deal is strictly in line with international law and all international directives regarding Syria,” the French company statement said.
According to the website, The Syria Report, it is the first agreement with a western hotel operator since 2011, when the devastating conflict began. Louvre Hotels Group was taken over by China's Jin Jiang in 2015 and it operates more than 1,500 hotels in 54 countries.