Ines Gacemi

Several large French groups established abroad have contributed to the instability of certain countries by financing equipment for an authoritarian regime or terrorist groups.

What do Total Energies, Amesys, Lafarge and Sofexi have in common? 

These French companies have all worked directly or indirectly in connection with authoritarian regimes. Burma, Syria, Libya, Tunisia or Egypt: a look back at how these large groups have played a role in the instability of these countries.

While the French group is accused of complicity in the war in Ukraine , TotalEnergies announced at the beginning of the year its withdrawal from Burma , pointing the finger at “abuses and violations of human rights”. This withdrawal was made laboriously under pressure from human rights NGOs after the military coup of 2021.

Documents revealed by Le Monde showed that an undersea gas pipeline that connected the Yadana field to Thailand did not only transport gas. Hundreds of millions of dollars were diverted from the coffers of the Burmese state to a company controlled by the military, the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. 

Thanks to a system of sharing with the junta set up by the French oil company, TotalEnergies was able to indirectly finance the military via offshore accounts in Bermuda before and after the advent of a democratic regime between 2016 and 2021.

Since the coup d State of 2021 in Burma, more than 2,300 civilians have been killed by security forces, according to a count by a local NGO.

Amesys and cyber surveillance in Libya

2020In 2013, the International Federation for Human Rights and the League for Human Rights filed a complaint against the French group, Amesys (now Nexa Technologies).

They accused them of having sold between 2007 and 2011 in Tripoli cyber-surveillance software to the Gaddafi regime which would have made it possible to track down Libyan opponents before imprisoning and torturing them.

Online media had conducted the first investigations on the subject. However, it was in 2011, in the middle of the Arab Spring, that the affair broke out. Journalists from the Wall Street Journal had visited the Tripoli surveillance center and had discovered documents there according to which Amesys had equipped this center with an internet traffic analysis system, making it possible to control the messages which were exchanged there.

Amesys had admitted having provided the Gaddafi regime with “analytical material”. Nevertheless , the company had defended itself by recalling that a contract had been signed in a context of “diplomatic rapprochement” with Libya, under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. 

The Paris Court of Appeal will rule on November 21 on whether or not to maintain the indictments in this investigation into the sale of cyber-surveillance equipment by Amesys to the Gaddafi regime.

The company has also been the subject of suspicion for the same affair but this time in Egypt , under the authoritarian regime of Al-Sissi.

Lafarge, indicted for complicity in crimes against humanity in Syria

In an investigation opened in June 2017, justice suspects Lafarge of having paid in 2013 and 2014, via its subsidiary Lafarge Cement Syria, nearly 13 million euros to terrorist groups, including the Islamic State organization, as well as to intermediaries. 

These payments, revealed last year by Liberation , would have been made in order to maintain the activity of a cement factory in Syria while the country was facing the Islamic State.

As our investigation had pointed out, emails exchanged between the cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Laurent Fabius, and the French ambassador for Syria, Franck Gellet, had revealed the involvement of French diplomacy in the folder.

The Paris Court of Appeal confirmed in May the indictment of the cement group for “complicity in crimes against humanity”, “financing of terrorist groups” and “endangering the lives of others”.

Tear gas, shields and helmets delivered by Sofexi to Tunisia

The French company Sofexi has been accused of delivering at least four times between December 2010 and January 2011 tear gas, shields and helmets to the Ben Ali regime in the midst of the Jasmine Revolution. 

These tear gas were used by the Tunisian security forces to repress the population in full revolt against the government in place. The French company defended itself in a press release, arguing that the French State gave the green light: 

“Sofexi has received from the French authorities all the necessary approvals for the export of tear gas canisters ordered between December and January by the Tunisian Ministry of Interior. […] We had all the approvals of the ministries concerned.”

The Prime Minister at the time, François Fillon, initially assured that he had given no authorization and affirmed that no law enforcement equipment had been sent. 

Before acknowledging having authorized the four deliveries, two of which during the repression in Tunisia. And to specify that two other deliveries had been made in mid-January in the absence of a ban on the Quai d’Orsay.

Having received all the authorizations, Sofexi has not been the subject of legal proceedings and no investigation has been opened in this case.


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