October 18, 2022 at 5:04 p.m. EDT
NEW YORK — Global cement company Lafarge will pay the U.S. government nearly $780 million for conspiring with Islamic State militants to run a production plant in war-ravaged Syria during its civil war — a move that helped bolster the terrorist group’s meager finances, officials said Tuesday.
A top executive of Lafarge, which was acquired by Swiss-based Holcim in 2015, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to a count of conspiring to provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations, admitting that Lafarge knowingly engaged in a deal with Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and the al-Nusrah Front (ANF), a Syrian Islamist militia, in 2013 and 2014.
The guilty plea marked the first time a corporation was prosecuted under a U.S. statute that prohibits a person or entity from assisting foreign terrorist groups, officials said. The Justice Department has a broad ability to bring such cases in U.S. courts even if the conduct generally occurred abroad but also involves at least one wire transaction locally.
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Justice Department officials said Tuesday that the two groups obtained at least $6 million in payments from Lafarge. The payoffs allowed Lafarge to operate the plant in the Northern region of Syria, near the Turkish border, and bought them protection from the militias.
The Islamic State also made more than $3 million directly through the sale of cement it obtained at the end of Lafarge’s operation there starting in late 2014.
In total, Lafarge agreed to forfeit $687 million and pay $91 million in criminal fines to the United States.
U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz, who accepted Lafarge’s guilty plea, said the case “impacts global communities [and] the national security of the United States,” as well as victims of the terrorists.
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Lafarge, which is based in France, had dealings with ISIS at a time when the group was responsible for capturing and killing journalists and aid workers in the devastated region.
Justice Department officials said the company paid for access to the plant and for protection from ISIS at a time when other corporations were fleeing Syria.
The Islamic State even issued stamped driving permits for Lafarge workers to get access to the plant.
“To the brothers at the checkpoints of Qarah Qawzak Bridge, may Allah keep you safe,” a translation of the permit read. “Kindly allow the employees of Lafarge Cement Company to pass through after completing the necessary work and after paying their dues to us.”
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U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said at a news conference Tuesday that Lafarge and its Syrian subsidiary were responsible for providing significant funds to ISIS, which “otherwise operated on a shoestring budget.”
“This conduct by a Western corporation was appalling and has no precedent or justification,” Peace said.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said greedy intentions by Lafarge fueled rampant violence.
“In its pursuit of profits, Lafarge and its top executives not only broke the law, they helped to finance a violent reign of terror that ISIS and [ANF]imposed on the people of Syria,” Monaco said.
In France, six former executives and Lafarge are facing pending criminal charges in connection with their relationships in Syria. Those six people were referred to in court papers in the New York case but were not named.
“We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve this matter,” Lafarge said in a statement.
The conduct did not involve “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,” the statement also said.