"We absolutely do not agree with (this) decision", which is not "a judgment on the merits of the case but aims to determine the extent of the charges under investigation", indicated in a statement from Holcim, which had merged with Lafarge in 2015.

"We resolutely believe that this offense should not be held against Lafarge, which will file an appeal in cassation," added the group.

The appeal will be filed on Thursday, one of the group's lawyers told AFP.

The Parisian investigating chamber was invited to rule once again on the Lafarge group's requests for the cancellation of its charges for the offense, extremely rare for a company, of "complicity in crimes against humanity", and for that of "endangering the lives of others".

In November 2019, this appeals chamber granted the group's first request, finding that the group's only intention was "the continuation of the cement plant's activity", while rejecting the second.

But last September, the Court of Cassation had invited her to review her copy.

Its criminal division had considered that, for this complicity in crimes against humanity to be accepted, it was sufficient that the author of the offense "know that the principal authors are committing or are going to commit such a crime against humanity and that by his aid or assistance he facilitates its preparation or consumption".

After a return to the investigating chamber and a long hearing in March, the Paris Court of Appeal therefore decided to maintain the "complicity in crimes against humanity" and the "endangerment of the life of others" in the file for the cement group.

With Lafarge's appeal, the case should therefore come back to the Court of Cassation, possibly before an enlarged formation.

-"Hidden" Facts in Holcim?-

As part of this judicial investigation opened in June 2017, the group now a subsidiary of Holcim is suspected of having paid in 2013 and 2014, via its Syrian subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS), several million euros to terrorist groups. , including the Islamic State organization (IS), as well as to intermediaries, in order to maintain the activity of a cement factory in Syria in Jalabiya while the country was sinking into the war.

The Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS) cement plant in Jalabiya, some 30 km from Ain Issa, in northern Syria, on February 19, 2018 Delil souleiman AFP / Archives

The investigation estimated that these payments could have reached between 4.8 and 10 million euros for the EI group alone.

Lafarge is also suspected of selling cement from the factory to IS and paying intermediaries to source raw materials from jihadist factions.

The group had invested 680 million euros in the construction of the Jalabiya site, completed in 2010.

A representative of the association ECCHR (European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights), whose civil party status in this case was confirmed by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, greeted the press with "an emblematic decision".

"We hope that the investigating judges will be able to finish their work," she added.

"This is one more step against the impunity of the perpetrators of the worst crimes of economic actors: today, it is no longer possible to hide behind the little finger of organized ignorance", applauded Me Joseph Breham, lawyer for a hundred former Syrian employees.

"It's a relief and an important step for former Syrian employees", also noted Me Mathieu Bagard and Elise Le Gall, lawyer for fifty of them.

"We must now shed light on the responsibilities and the degree of knowledge of this complicity in crimes against humanity by public actors", asked Me Arié Alimi, lawyer for the League for Human Rights (LDH).

Two of the criminal qualifications used against the Lafarge group, "complicity in crimes against humanity" and "financing of a terrorist enterprise", are very heavy in terms of public image.

In a November interrogation revealed by Le Parisien on Tuesday, Holcim board chairman Beat Hess accused former Lafarge executives of "hiding" their activities in Syria during the 2015 merger. Holcim was "betrayed", he asserted.

In this case, eight executives and managers, including the ex-CEO of Lafarge Bruno Lafont, but also a Syrian-Canadian intermediary or a former Jordanian risk manager are indicted.

© 2022 AFP

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