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Lafarge can be charged with 'complicity in crimes against humanity' over Syria plant, French court says

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France's highest court on Tuesday rejected a request by French cement maker Lafarge to dismiss charges of complicity in crimes against humanity as part of an investigation over how it kept its factory running in Syria after war broke out in 2011.

Lafarge, which became part of Swiss-listed Holcim in 2015, has been the subject of an investigation into its operations in Syria since 2016 © Mena Today 

France's highest court on Tuesday rejected a request by French cement maker Lafarge to dismiss charges of complicity in crimes against humanity as part of an investigation over how it kept its factory running in Syria after war broke out in 2011.

The ruling, which upheld an earlier decision by a lower court, means the probe into the company's criminal liability on the grounds of the highly symbolic crimes against humanity charges can continue.

The company, however, scored a partial win as the court dropped charges of endangering the life of its staff.

Lafarge, which became part of Swiss-listed Holcim in 2015, has been the subject of an investigation into its operations in Syria since 2016, in one of the most extensive corporate criminal proceedings in recent French legal history.

The cement maker has previously admitted, after its own internal investigation, that its Syrian subsidiary paid armed groups to help protect staff at the plant amidst the civil war that had shaken the country for years.

But in a fierce legal battle, involving dozens of lawyers and thousands of pages of documents, Lafarge has been rejecting some of the charges French prosecutors have been looking at, including that it was complicit in crimes against humanity by paying money to the armed groups.

The company had argued French authorities had no formal jurisdiction for prosecuting charges of war crime involvement abroad, which the court rejected in Tuesday's ruling.

But the company also contested it could be guilty of endangering the lives of its local staff by keeping employees in their jobs amid a deteriorating safety situation.

Lafarge had stated there was no special obligation to protect them as French labour law wasn't applicable and the Cour de Cassation on Tuesday followed those arguments.

Reporting by Tassilo Hummel

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