CEO resigns after firm admits paying armed groups in Syria

When is something 'terrorism'?
When is something 'terrorism'?

The chief executive of the world's largest cement maker will resign after the firm admitted to making payments to armed groups in Syria.

Eric Olsen will step down as CEO of LafargeHolcim in July after an internal investigation found that managers at the company's plant in Syria made indirect payments to armed groups in 2013 and 2014 in order to keep the facility open.

Olsen denied that he was involved in making the payments.

"While I was absolutely not involved in, nor even aware of, any wrongdoing I believe my departure will contribute to bringing back serenity to a company that has been exposed for months on this case," he said in a written statement.

The Swiss-French firm opened its plant in Syria in May 2010, before political unrest and civil war consumed the country. LafargeHolcim suffered resource shortages and its staff were harassed by armed groups as the conflict intensified.

It said the payments -- made via middlemen -- were initiated by plant managers who believed they were acting in the firm's best interests.

"The combination of the war zone chaos and the 'can-do' approach to maintain operations in these circumstances may have caused those involved to seriously misjudge the situation," the company said in a statement.

Related: Spain seizes $740 million in real estate from Syrian dictator's uncle

LafargeHolcim did not say how much money was paid to armed groups, and it declined to name the groups that received funds.

The plant was evacuated in 2014. It had operated at a loss and contributed less than 1% of the firm's revenue.

LafargeHolcim chairman Beat Hess will temporarily take over the reins of the company.

The construction materials group -- the world's largest by market value -- was created in 2015 through the combination of Switzerland's Holcim and France's Lafarge.

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