Why did the French intelligence facilitate the funding of ISIS?
France Lafarge scandal
France’s top court has overturned a decision by a lower court to dismiss charges brought against cement giant Lafarge for complicity in crimes against humanity in Syria’s civil war.
The ruling by the Court of Cassation on Tuesday marks a major setback for Lafarge, which is accused of paying nearly 13 million euros ($15.3m) to armed groups including the ISIL (ISIS) group, to keep its cement factory in northern Syria running through the early years of the country’s war.
Lafarge, which merged in 2015 with Swiss group Holcim, is under formal investigation in France for its efforts to keep a factory running in Syria after conflict erupted in 2011.
Rights groups including the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and France’s Sherpa, which brought claims against Lafarge, alleged the group bought raw materials and oil from armed fighters and made payments for the safe passage of workers through checkpoints.
Lafarge has acknowledged that its Syrian subsidiary paid middlemen to negotiate with armed groups to allow the movement of staff and goods inside the warzone.
But it denies any responsibility for the money winding up in the hands of armed groups and has fought to have the case dropped.
Newly discovered documents published late Tuesday exposed that cement giant Lafarge informed France’s intelligence services about its relations with Daesh in Syria, meaning French institutions and officials were aware the company was cooperating with the terrorist group. The revelation came a week after French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Daesh’s former stronghold Mosul, where the terrorist group had committed mass atrocities against Iraqi civilians including Christians, Yazidis and other minorities.
The shocking revelations about the cement giant and French authorities are serious as the documents contradict France and Macron’s position on the fight against terror. Lafarge has a network of established relations it uses in the region to cooperate with terrorist organizations and continue operating. The documents obtained by Anadolu Agency (AA) reveal that French intelligence agencies were aware of how the company was running in Syria and chose to use its network to gain more intelligence, without warning Lafarge it was committing a crime.
Lafarge was investigated on charges of “participating in crimes against humanity” on the grounds that it paid Daesh to carry out its activities in Syria. The former CEO of the company was also charged with paying the Daesh terrorist group to allow the firm to continue operating in Syria. The French company was said to have paid Daesh and other militants around $5.6 million (TL 46.71 million) between 2012 and 2014 so that production at its plant in northern Syria would not be interrupted. Lafarge’s Syrian subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria was also thought to have used fake contracts to buy fuel from Daesh.
In the new documents belonging to the French state, it is understood that the relationship between Lafarge and the French intelligence service started with an email sent by the company’s security director Jean Claude Veillard to an address belonging to the Ministry of Interior intelligence on Jan. 22, 2014.
Veillard stated in his email that Lafarge was still active in Syria and needed to establish relations with “local actors” in order to continue its work. The director of security asked the intelligence service how much risk their executives and headquarters were in, noting that there had been some negative press coverage about them. Responding to Lafarge, the intelligence service officer informed him of a date to discuss the situation.
After the scandalous discussion of Lafarge-Daesh relations in France and the reflection of the issue in the court, the intelligence officer, code-named A.M. 02, gave a statement in court on Nov. 18, 2018.
According to the court transcript, the officer admitted that Lafarge was his source of information in Syria. The intelligence officer told the judge how the French secret services took advantage of the Lafarge factory. In the records, the intelligence officer did not exclude Daesh, saying that during the 2012-2014 period Lafarge sent cement to all armed groups in Syria, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group formally known as the Nusra Front.
“We approached the situation purely opportunistically, taking advantage of Lafarge’s continued work,” the intelligence officer said in the court.
The details of sending cement to Daesh were discussed in the correspondence between Veillard and the French Ministry of Interior intelligence on Sept. 1, 2014.
“Can you give more details about the cement going to Daesh?” the French intelligence agent asked, making clear that the French state was aware of Lafarge’s relationship with the terrorist organization at that time.
In the documents seen by AA, one striking finding is that more than 30 meetings took place between Lafarge and the French domestic, foreign and military intelligence services between 2013 and 2014 alone.
Daesh is known to have built strong shelters and tunnels against the United States-led coalition forces with the cement it was provided.
Veillard, the company’s head of security, testified to police on Nov. 30, 2017, when Lafarge was accused of committing crimes against humanity by financing terrorist organizations.
According to the transcript obtained by AA, Veillard tried to prove that he had informed the French state and intelligence agencies of everything he had done during his deposition.
The annexes to the statement included documents regarding the interview with the Lafarge security manager in the field, the conditions as they developed on the ground and the information he received.
It was understood that Veillard shared information about the conflicts to French intelligence, updating them on the balance between the military and armed groups.
What were the motives?
In response to the allegations, Veillard gave testimony to the police on Nov. 30, 2017.
According to the recorded statement accessed by Anadolu Agency, he tried proving that he informed the French state and intelligence institutions about everything he did.
Information related to the meetings, field conditions, as well as speculations that the security director heard were in the appendices of the statement record.
It was found out that Veillard conveyed the field information related to clashes and the military balances between the armed groups.
A handwritten note by Veillard, which was “sent to the French foreign intelligence” was also included in the appendices.
Some documents reached by Anadolu Agency indicate that there were more than 30 meetings between Lafarge and the French domestic, foreign, and military intelligence services between 2013 and 2014 alone.
The revealed documents showed that the French intelligence agencies used Lafarge’s network of relations, its cooperation with the terror groups in Syria and meetings to maintain its operations there to get news from the region.
France’s interests in Iraq
The revealed documents do not provide good signs as to France’s plans to maintain a presence in Iraq.
Macron made the commitment during a regional summit in Baghdad largely devoted to the fight against terrorism and the impact of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan as the US withdraws.
“No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism,” he told a news conference last week.
Iraqi analysts say that Macron’s vows regarding French presence in Iraq are reminiscent of his vows in Lebanon, which were scuppered because of the level of Iranian influence exercised on the Lebanese system through Hezbollah.
“No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism,” as long as the Iraqi government wanted it, he told a news conference on Saturday.
During his visit to Mosul, the French president voiced support for the Christians of Iraq in a way that is reminiscent of France’s guardianship over Christians in Lebanon.
This, according to analysts, seems to suggest that France is seeking to recreate the same conditions that led to its failed role in Lebanon.
One analyst said that, “Macron can be helped in his mission by French companies that know Iraqi issues very well, from weapons to electricity to the Baghdad metro. The question however is whether France finances these projects”.
According to the analyst, “France is not in a comfortable financial situation and neither is Iraq, which can be considered a bankrupt country after the successive pro-Iranian governments since 2006 squandered all the money that entered the treasury at a time when the price of a barrel of oil was quite high.”
France has lost its influence in Iraq since the 1991 war, when the late French President Francois Mitterrand decided to join the US-led coalition to liberate Kuwait. Paris had maintained a high profile presence in Iraq during the eighties.