A former human resources manager of cement giant Lafarge has been charged in France for “endangering the lives of others” during operations in war-torn Syria, sources told AFP on April 14.
Sonia Artinian, the group’s HR director from September 2013 to July 2015, was not charged, however, with financing a terrorist organization after being summoned last month by investigating judges in Paris.
The choice to cling on in Syria after other international firms fled the fighting has dragged Lafarge, a French company which merged with Swiss firm Holcim in 2015, into a spiral of scandal and recriminations that has embroiled the French state.
Judges are investigating allegations Lafarge funneled some 13 million euros ($16 million) to armed fighters including Islamic State of Oraq and the Levant (ISIL) to keep the factory working.
Following interviews, Artinian was indicted for “deliberately endangering the lives of others”, but granted “assisted witness” status on the terrorism financing charge.
Her lawyer, Benjamin Grundler, told AFP: “This decision confirms that my client is totally unaware of the alleged facts of financing of a terrorist organization.”
Six former or current top Lafarge executives have been charged with financing a terrorist organization.
Those bosses could also face prosecution for endangering the lives of their local Syrian employees after 11 of them filed their own lawsuit alleging Lafarge put the prospect of profits from rebuilding Syria after the war ahead of their safety.
In 2013, Syrian mechanic Yassin Ismail, employed at Lafarge’s plant at Jalabiya since 2009, was detained by jihadist fighters from a group that would later change its name to ISIL.
After several months in captivity Ismail was executed, according to relatives and three former colleagues who spoke to AFP in the northern Syrian town of Ain Issa.
Another mechanic Abdul al-Homada, 35, was kidnapped in 2013 in the city of Aleppo – and later very likely killed – after heading there to pick up his salary, four of his former colleagues told AFP.
Turkey accuses Lafarge of lending support to the People’s Protection Units, which it sees a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), after the defeat of ISIL.
During the ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” in Afrin, underground tunnels used by YPG militants have been discovered as well as ready-mix concrete mixers belonging to Lafarge, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said by the end of last month.
“They have factories there. Given all this, how can the West call our actions into question?” he said.