French cement maker Lafarge 'made deals with IS group in Syria'
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French cement maker Lafarge entered into deals with armed groups in Syria, including the Islamic State (IS) group, in order to protect its business interests in the country, French daily Le Monde reported Tuesday.
According to the French newspaper, between 2013 and 2014 Lafarge paid taxes to IS group middlemen and negotiated safe passage for its trucks and employees in order to continue its operations in northern Syria.
Lafarge, the world's leader in construction materials, did not respond to queries from AFP over the allegations, saying only that its "absolute priority has always been ensuring the safety and security of its staff".
At the heart of the "murky deals" alleged by Le Monde is a cement works that Lafarge bought in 2007 some 150 kilometres (95 miles) northeast of Aleppo.
The Jalabiya cement works went into operation in 2010, a year before the start of Syria's ongoing civil war.
"Until 2013, production kept up despite the growing instability in the region due to the civil war," the French daily wrote.
In 2013, the IS group – then known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – began taking control of towns and roads around the factory.
Le Monde reported it had seen emails sent by Lafarge managers in Syria "revealing arrangements that Lafarge made with the jihadist group to continue production until September 19, 2014".
It was on this date that the IS group took over the site and Lafarge halted all activity.
IS group stamp
In one case Lafarge – seeking access to its factory for workers and supplies – sent a man named Ahmad Jaloudi on a mission "to get permission from IS group to let employees past checkpoints".
According to Le Monde, the letters show that Lafarge's Paris headquarters was aware of the arrangements.
In another case a "pass stamped with an IS group stamp and endorsed by the (group's) finance chief in the Aleppo region" proves the company had struck a deal with IS group to allow for free circulation of its goods, the newspaper reported.
In order to keep making cement Lafarge bought licences from and paid taxes to IS group middle-men and oil traders, the newspaper alleged.
Lafarge – which in 2015 merged with Swiss cement maker Holcim – confirmed to AFP it had owned the Jalabiya cement works "between 2010 and 2014", but did not directly address the allegations.
"When fighting came closer to the factory, Lafarge's absolute priority was ensuring the safety and security of its staff while the closure of the factory was being studied," the company said.
IS group militants were driven out of the Jalabiya area by Kurdish forces in February 2015.
According to Le Monde, the site is now used as a base for US, French and British special forces that support the Kurds in their fight against the jihadists.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)