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LafargeHolcim chairman admits "unacceptable errors" in Syrian operations

LafargeHolcim Ltd Chairman Beat Hess acknowledged that the company made "unacceptable errors" in its Syrian operations as French authorities placed three of the company's top officials under investigation for possible "financing of terrorist enterprise," the Financial Times reported.

French police had earlier raided the Paris offices of the Swiss cement maker as part of an ongoing probe into payments to local armed groups to keep the Jalabiya plant in northern Syria operational in 2013. Investigators have now focused their attention on Bruno Pescheux, the director of Lafarge's Syrian subsidiary between 2008 and 2014, and his successor, Frédéric Jolibois. The third individual placed under investigation, Jean-Claude Veillard, is a former head of security for Lafarge who still works for the company, the Financial Times said, citing judicial sources. Lawyers for the former Syrian officials said that their clients denied any wrongdoing while the representative for the third person declined to comment. The company would not give any statement regarding the ongoing legal case to the Financial Times.

The company's admission that "unacceptable measures" had indeed been taken to keep the Syria plant running forced the resignation of CEO Eric Olsen in July.

"Unacceptable errors were made that the group regrets and condemns. It's of course easy to say that with hindsight, but the group certainly pulled out from Syria too late. That could all have been avoided," Hess said to newspaper Le Figaro on Dec. 3.

Hess also cleared Lafarge CEO Bruno Lafont of any link to the payments. "I wasn't in the company then, but I have no reason to have doubts about Bruno Lafont, in view of our internal investigation," he said.