French cement firm Lafarge has agreed to pay the US more than three-quarters of a billion dollars for helping fund two US-designated terrorist groups in northern Syria.
The prosecution and criminal plea agreement to pay over $777 million are being hailed by the Justice Department as an "unprecedented" development that reflects the "extraordinary crimes" that Lafarge committed over multiple years early in the Syrian conflict.
"Lafarge made a deal with the devil; foreign terrorists who pledged to, and in fact did, harm the United States, its people and its national security, and they did it for profit," Breon Peace, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, told reporters as the Justice Department announced the plea deal.
Here are five major takeaways from Tuesday's announcement:
Lafarge’s payments to terrorist groups allowed it to reap tens of millions of dollars in revenue
Lafarge paid the terrorist groups from 2013 through 2014 for protection and to allow the continued operation of a cement plant in northern Syria run by Lafarge's local subsidiary, Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS). In total, nearly $6 million was sent to the two groups, according to prosecutors.
In return, Lafarge was able to continue operating its Jalabiyeh Cement Plant, allowing it to net some $70 million in revenue.
"Between August 2013 and October 2014, Lafarge capitalized on Islamic State's iron grip and violent control of Syria to stifle its competition and to increase its market share," Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said, using another name to refer to Daesh/ISIS.
Lafarge sought Daesh/ISIS's aid to undercut Turkish companies
The French firm sought to use its agreement with Daesh/ISIS to "impose costs on competitors selling Turkish cement imported into northern Syria," the Justice Department said, noting Turkish cement was "often sold more cheaply" than that produced at the Jalabiyeh facility.
"LCS executives made clear to the intermediaries negotiating with ISIS that, in exchange for LCS paying ISIS 750 Syrian Pounds per each ton of cement that it sold, they expected ISIS to take action against its competitors, either by stopping the sale of competing imported Turkish cement in the areas under ISIS’s control, or by imposing taxes on competing cement that would allow LCS to raise the prices at which it sold cement," the department said.
Lafarge executives discussed how they could ‘share the cake’ with Daesh/ISIS
Lafarge's senior officials not only worked to enable "the operations of a brutal terrorist group" but also actively discussed how they could "share the cake" with the terror group, Monaco said, citing internal company emails used as part of the Justice Department's prosecution.
The "cake," she said, was a "callous reference to the profits that Lafarge planned to reap from the illicit partnership."
"When Lafarge’s partnership with ISIS came to a close, the defendants moved to cover their tracks — but the investigation uncovered the emails Lafarge executives tried to hide," the senior Justice Department official said.
"While the facts of this case may be extreme, they are instructive of the Department’s corporate crime priorities and what happens when companies and their executives make the wrong choices," she added
Lafarge paid Daesh/ISIS and al-Nusra front $6 million
The French firm ultimately paid the two US-designated terrorist groups $5.92 million in the form of fixed monthly "donations," payments to Daesh/ISIS-controlled suppliers for raw materials, and "variable payments" based on how much cement LCS sold, according to the plea agreement.
Some $1.11 million was also paid to intermediaries that helped Lafarge and LCS negotiate and make payments to the terrorist groups.
The Jalabiyeh Cement Plant was ultimately evacuated in September 2014, setting the stage for Daesh/ISIS to take control of the facility and sell the cement that remained there for some $3.21 million, according to the Justice Department.
Holcim, which acquired Lafarge in 2015, said it supports plea deal
Switzerland-based Holcim, which bought Lafarge seven years ago, voiced unequivocal support for the agreement, maintaining it was involved in "none of the conduct" to which Lafarge pleaded guilty.
"It is in stark contrast with everything that Holcim stands for," the company said in a statement. "Lafarge SA and LCS have accepted responsibility for the actions of the individual executives involved, whose behavior was in flagrant violation of Lafarge’s Code of Conduct. We deeply regret that this conduct occurred."