A top court in France on Tuesday quashed the decision of a lower court dismissing charges of the company’s involvement in crimes against humanity in war-torn Syria, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.
The Court of Cassation decision reverses the progress the cement-maker had achieved in the suit, which hears the allegation that the firm paid $15.3 million to the Islamic State (IS) to retain a cement plant north of Syria at the dawn of the country’s civil war.
Lafarge admitted its Syrian operation paid middlemen to negotiate with armed groups in order to ease the movement of its staff and goods within the war zone.
It nevertheless denied having a hand in money getting to terrorists and has made concerted efforts to have the suit nullified.
Two years ago, the Paris Court of Appeal dismissed the crimes against humanity charge in a decision that claimed the payments were intended to aid IS’s macabre agenda of executions and torture.
But the ruling ordered the prosecution of Lafarge for three other charges: endangering other people’s lives, funding terrorism and flouting an EU embargo.
Lafarge Cement Syria’s staff, numbering 11 with support from NGOs, contested the Court of Cassation judgement.
“One can be complicit in crimes against humanity even if one doesn’t have the intention of being associated with the crimes committed,” France’s apex bank said on Tuesday.
“Knowingly paying several million dollars to an organisation whose sole purpose was exclusively criminal suffices to constitute complicity, regardless of whether the party concerned was acting to pursue a commercial activity.”
According to judges, several acts of complicity would end up unpunished if courts handled interpretation with levity.
It also upheld the charge involving financing terrorism that Lafarge had striven hard to have dismissed.
The judgement does not imply Lafarge will automatic have a case to answer on the weightiest allegations against a French company regarding its activities in a foreign nation in recent years.
Rather, the court referred the case back to magistrates to review the charge of complicity.
Bruno Laffont, Lafarge’s erstwhile CEO and eight executives, have also been charged with financing a terrorist group and/or endangering the lives of others.
Lafarge is not the first multinational to be charged for complicity in crimes against humanity for its actions in a nation in which people experienced terrible human rights abuses. However, cases of that nature are hardly brought to trial.
Twelve Nigerians sued Shell in the US in 1990 for abetting rape, extra-judicial killings, torture and crimes against humanity in the Niger Delta.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the suit, claiming U.S. courts lacked jurisdiction in the issue.
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