France’s Supreme Court has ordered construction firm Lafarge to face charges of complicity in crimes against humanity by Islamic State, after ruling that the Paris Court of Appeal “wrongly cancelled” the charges in 2019.
The court said the charges, made in connection with payments made by Lafarge to Islamic State and other armed groups in Syria between 2012 and 2014, should be returned to the appeals court.
“Knowingly transferring millions of dollars to an organisation whose sole purpose is criminal is enough to characterise complicity,” the Supreme Court said, adding that its decision is “crucial for corporate accountability”.
The Supreme Court also maintained indictments against Lafarge for financing terrorism.
Eight former Lafarge executives remain indicted in the ongoing judicial inquiry, with former executives, including CEOs, charged with financing terrorism and endangering employees’ lives.
In 2016, a judicial inquiry opened, following criminal complaints from former employees at Lafarge. It found that the firm’s Syrian subsidiary, Lafarge Cement Syria, allegedly paid up to €13m to armed groups, including Islamic State, to keep its cement factory open and running during the country’s war.
Lafarge was charged with complicity in crimes against humanity in 2018 and was ordered to pay €30m ahead of a trial.
In November 2019, the Paris Court of Appeal confirmed the criminal indictments against Lafarge and some of its former executives and employees for financing terrorism, but dismissed charges of complicity in crimes against humanity.
Now, the French Supreme Court has cleared the way for a criminal trial by upholding the charges of financing terrorism and quashing the annulment of the charges of crimes against humanity.
This case represents the first time a French multinational corporation has been charged with complicity in crimes against humanity for human rights abuses committed abroad.
“Today’s decision sends an important message to all companies that profit from or fuel armed conflicts, and claim that their business activities are neutral,” said Cannelle Lavite, legal adviser at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, which was a civil party in filing the original complaint.
“By transferring hundreds of thousands of euros to IS, a group that knowingly committed crimes against humanity, Lafarge was well aware that this money could be used towards criminal purposes of the worst nature – and thereby made itself possibly complicit,” she added.
Franceline Lepany, president of NGO Sherpa, also a civil party in the original case, said: “With this historic decision, it becomes difficult for companies to escape accountability and shift the blame for their wrongdoings or decisions that cause human rights violations to their foreign subsidiaries.”