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French company to pay nearly $778 million as part of plea deal to US charge of providing support to ISIS

<i>Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>French cement maker Lafarge will plead guilty to U.S. charges of supporting the Islamic State.
Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images
French cement maker Lafarge will plead guilty to U.S. charges of supporting the Islamic State.

By Kara Scannell, Tierney Sneed and Evan Perez, CNN

A French cement company admitted Tuesday to making millions of dollars of payments that supported ISIS and another terrorist organization as part of an effort to maintain its operations in Syria as the civil war escalated.

The company, Lafarge SA, is paying a financial penalty of nearly $778 million and pleaded guilty to a US federal count of conspiring to provide material support to ISIS and another terrorist organization as part of a deal with the US Justice Department.

It is an unprecedented corporate prosecution under the material support of terrorism law, according to the Justice Department. The company pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday.

The cement company entered a revenue sharing scheming with ISIS and the al-Nusrah Front that produced millions for the terrorist groups, according to court filings from the plea deal the Justice Department reached with Lafarge.

“Lafarge made a deal with the devil,” US Attorney Breon Peace, of the Eastern District of New York, said at a press conference after the court proceedings.

Lafarge and Lafarge Cement Syria — a dormant subsidiary that is also a defendant in the prosecution — entered the conspiracy with “the explicit purpose of incentivizing ISIS to act in a manner that would promote LAFARGE’s and LCS’s security and economic interests,” court documents said.

Payments that the companies made through intermediaries to the terrorist groups amounted to approximately $5.92 million. When Lafarge evacuated the cement plant in 2014, ISIS took over the plant and sold the cement it had produced for roughly $3.2 million, according to the Justice Department.

“The defendants paid millions of dollars to ISIS, a terrorist group that otherwise operated on a shoestring budget — millions of dollars that ISIS could use to recruit members, wage war against governments and conduct brutal terrorist attacks worldwide,” Breon said.

The court filings quote several emails and other documents from the company shedding light on the scheme, which revolved around a cement plant Lafarge was running in Syria.

Among the communications was an August 2013 email from one executive to two other executives, in which the executive said that, “It is clear that we have an issue with ISIS and al Nusra and we have asked our partner” — referring to an intermediary — “to work on it.”

Used ISIS letterhead

A November 2013 agreement between ISIS and LSC, written on a document with ISIS letterhead, laid out a deal for ISIS to let trucks access the company’s cement factory for 400 Syrian pounds per truck, according to the new filings.

“Relatedly, an ISIS vehicle pass dated April 26, 2014, and bearing ISIS’s letterhead and stamp, allowed LCS employees ‘to pass through after the required work. This is after they have fulfilled their dues to us,'” the court submissions said.

A July 2014 email from one executive to two others referred to the revenue-sharing scheme as a “cake” to be shared: “We have to maintain the principle that we are ready to share the ‘cake,’ if there is a ‘cake,'” the email said, according to the new filings.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that the executives sought to conceal the scheme by using personal, rather than company, emails to communicate about it. The executives also falsified documents to suggest that the company had terminated its relationship with an intermediary who was working with ISIS, according to the new filings.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Tuesday that “corporate criminals” had “joined hands” with terrorists.

“In its pursuit of profits, Lafarge and its top executives not only broke the law, they helped finance a violent reign of terror that ISIS and al-Nusrah imposed on the people of Syria,” Monaco said.

The executives who participated in the scheme were located in France and countries in the Middle East, according to the DOJ’s investigation, and it did not involve employees of the company based in the United States. The conduct ended before the completion of Lafarge’s acquisition by Holcim, its current parent company, the court filings said.

“Lafarge SA and LCS have accepted responsibility for the actions of the individual executives involved, whose behavior was in flagrant violation of Lafarge’s Code of Conduct. We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve this matter,” the company said in a statement.

The company’s dealings with the terrorist group were the subject of an internal investigation several years ago. At the conclusion of that probe, the corporation said that employees of a legacy company were paying off intermediaries without regard to the identity of the groups involved in order to keep operations running and the plant safe as violence escalated in the region.

“[T]he combination of the war zone chaos and the ‘can-do’ approach to maintain operations in these circumstances may have caused those involved to seriously misjudge the situation and to neglect to focus sufficiently on the legal and reputational implications of their conduct,” Lafarge Holcim, as the company is now known, said in a public statement in 2017.

Magali Anderson, a top executive at Lafarge, pleaded guilty on behalf of the company.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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