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Former LafargeHolcim CEO charged over terror financing allegations

AFP file photo

Former LafargeHolcim CEO Eric Olsen was indicted and place under judicial supervision late Thursday over allegations that the Swiss-French cement-maker indirectly financed jihadists in Syria, sources close to the case said.

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Olsen had been taken in for questioning Wednesday, along with Former Lafarge CEO Bruno Lafont and former deputy managing director for operations Christian Herrault. Lafont and Herrault remain in police custody.

Olsen served as CEO of LafargeHolcim after its creation two years ago, when French cement maker Lafarge merged with Swiss giant Holcim. He resigned in July of this year because of the allegations against him, but denied wrongdoing. He had previously served as head of human resources for Lafarge.

A supervisor of Syrian operations was also reportedly questioned on Wednesday.

The charges stem from actions Lafarge took before the merger. Lafarge is accused of paying the Islamic State group and other militants through a middleman so that the company's factory in Jalabiya, northern Syria, could continue to operate as the war raged around it. LafargeHolcim previously admitted the compay had taken “unacceptable measure” to avoid disruptions and keep the plant running.

Three former officials at the Jalabiya factory were questioned by French authorities last week..

Lafont headed Lafarge from 2006 until the merger in 2015, and served as co-chairman of LafargeHolcim until April this year.

Investigators are seeking to determine whether he was aware of millions of dollars paid to various armed groups including IS.

Herrault told investigators early this year that "either you agreed to the racket or you left" Syria, adding that he had had "discussions" with Lafont.

Lafont insisted that he believed "things were under control" and there was no reason to flee the war-torn country.

Lafarge's Syrian subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) paid out some $5.6 million (4.7 million euros) between July 2012 and September 2014, according to an April report commissioned by LafargeHolcim and seen by AFP.

LCS is also suspected of using fake consulting contracts to buy fuel from IS, which took control of most of Syria's strategic oil reserves in June 2013.

Frederic Jolibois, who took over as manager of the Jalabiya factory in 2014, was charged with financing terrorism, violating an EU embargo on Syrian oil and "endangering others' lives".

His predecessor as factory chief Bruno Pescheux and security boss Jean-Claude Veillard have also been charged.

Jolibois has admitted to buying oil from "non-governmental organisations", notably Kurdish and Islamist groups, in violation of the EU embargo declared in 2011.

Pescheux has meanwhile admitted Lafarge paid up to $100,000 a month to Syrian tycoon Firas Tlass, a former minority shareholder who gave cash to armed factions in order to keep the factory open.

IS would have received around $20,000, Pescheux estimated.

Lafarge hung on in Syria for two years after most French companies had left as IS made major territorial gains.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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