French cement maker Lafarge funded Islamic State "even as the terror group was kidnapping & killing Westerners"

French cement maker Lafarge has pleaded guilty in the US to supporting the Islamic State and other terror groups, the BBC reports.

The firm agreed to a $777.8m (£687.2m) penalty for payments it made to keep a factory running in Syria after war broke out in 2011, marking the first time a company had pleaded guilty in the US to aiding terrorists.

Lafarge said it "deeply regretted" the events and "accepted responsibility for the individual executives involved".

The cement manufacturer, which was bought by Switzerland's Holcim in 2015, said their behaviour had been in "flagrant violation" of Lafarge's code of conduct.

The more than $10 million payments to ISIS were made from 2012 through to 2014, and occurred even as the terror group was kidnapping and killing Westerners.

The firm opened its plant in Jalabiya near the Turkish border in 2010 following a $680m investment.

US prosecutors said that Lafarge's Syrian subsidiary had paid Islamic State and another terror group, al Nusra Front, the equivalent of $5.92m to protect staff at the plant as the country's civil war intensified. Executives likened the arrangements to paying "taxes", they said.

Lafarge eventually evacuated the plant in September 2014, when Islamic State took control of the town and the factory. But before its departure, the deals helped the company earn $70.3m in sales, prosecutors said.

Lafarge had previously admitted bribes were paid after an internal investigation. But US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said on Tuesday that the company's actions "reflect corporate crime that has reached a new low and a very dark place."

"Business with terrorists cannot be business as usual," she added.

In a statement, Lafarge's new owner Holcim said none of the conduct involved Holcim, "which has never operated in Syria".

It added that former Lafarge executives involved in the bribery had concealed it from Holcim, as well as external auditors.

Image: By StaraBlazkova - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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