Former LafargeHolcim chief charged in Syria probe

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Paris (AFP)

Former LafargeHolcim chief executive Eric Olsen was charged late Thursday as part of a probe into the alleged indirect financing of jihadist groups in Syria, a judicial source said.

The 53-year old, who became CEO in 2015 when France's Lafarge merged with Swiss group Holcim, is charged with "financing of a terrorist organisation" and "endangering the lives of others", the source said.

Lafarge is accused of paying the Islamic State (IS) group and other militants through a middleman so that the company's factory in Jalabiya, northern Syria, could continue to operate in a war zone.

Olsen, who was also placed under judicial supervision, had been taken in for questioning Wednesday over the allegations, along with another ex-CEO, Bruno Lafont, and former deputy managing director for operations Christian Herrault.

Lafont and Herrault are still being held.

Three former officials at the Jalabiya factory were charged in the case last week.

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

Herrault said 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.

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

Investigators are also trying to determine whether Lafarge failed to ensure the security of its Syrian staff who stayed behind after management left Syria in the summer of 2012, and to what extent the company's top managers were aware of the alleged deals with jihadists.

Olsen served as head of human resources and later deputy managing director at Lafarge during the alleged payments, before becoming chief executive of the merged group.

He left LafargeHolcim two years later.

The company said it would not comment on the ongoing investigation.