PARIS (Reuters) - France asked the United States in 2014 not to bomb a Lafarge cement plant in northern Syria, an area which was at the time controlled by Islamic State, emails that are part of an investigation into the company’s Syria operations show.
French prosecutors last year launched a probe into the suspected “financing of a terrorist enterprise” by the cement group in Syria. The company admitted last year it had paid armed groups to keep a factory operating.
“This French investment should be protected,” France’s Syria envoy, Franck Gellet, who is based in Paris, said in a Sept. 19, 2014 email to senior foreign ministry officials, referring to the Lafarge plant about 87 km (54 miles) from Raqqa.
“It seems legitimate that we ask Washington not to do anything about this site without checking with us first,” Gellet said in the email, that included the plant’s GPS coordinates.
The email is among a cache of correspondence sent by Gellet, Lafarge’s then security chief Jean-Claude Veillard and other French officials, seen by Reuters.
Gellet could not be reached for comment.
It comes as French leader Emmanuel Macron discusses Syria with U.S. President Donald Trump, pressing his American counterpart to keep his forces in place to ensure the militants do not regroup.
Another email dated Oct. 2, 2014, also part of the judicial investigation, showed the request had been transmitted to U.S. officials.
“This is to confirm that the site mentioned by your interlocutor was mentioned by our military to their U.S. colleagues and is now registered in the appropriate list,” the email sent to Gellet said.
Lafarge merged with Swiss company Holcim in 2015 to become LafargeHolcim.
Prosecutors last year put several senior former managers of Lafarge and LafargeHolcim under formal investigation.
LafargeHolcim declined on Wednesday to comment on the emails.
France’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment when asked about the 2014 request to U.S. authorities and whether the government was aware Lafarge was making payments to armed groups.
A French diplomatic source said several diplomats were being questioned as witnesses about their contact with Lafarge at the time.
“We provide judicial authorities all the information or documents they ask us for,” the source said, adding the foreign ministry and its officials had not been accused of wrongdoing.
The investigation’s files show Veillard told a judge he had regularly passed information to France’s intelligence services.
“As soon as I had information about these people I would pass it on to the services ... I was sending them raw information,” he said.
Veillard’s lawyer declined to comment.
One document details the transcript of a judge asking Veillard if he told intelligence services about payments made to the armed groups controlling the area.
The document shows Veillard replied: “I did not filter the information I was passing on to intelligence services, I was telling them everything.”
Human rights lawyers in December said Lafarge paid close to 13 million euros to armed groups including Islamic State militants to keep operating in Syria from 2011 to 2015.
Former LafargeHolcim CEO Eric Olsen resigned last year after the company admitted it had paid armed groups to keep the factory operating.
Additonial reporting by John Revill in Zurich and Ingrid Melander in Paris; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Lough and Edmund Blair
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