The 40-year-old Jacob Wærness, a former employee of the Police Security Service (PST), has been arrested in France for purportedly paying off terrorists in Syria, Norwegian TV2 reported.
Between 2011 and 2013, Wærness served as security chief at the French cement manufacturer Lafarge which had a factory in Jalabiya in the vicinity of Aleppo in northern Syria. After Syrian government forces pulled out of the area in 2011, Lafarge reportedly had to forge contacts with several "combatant groups." At the same time, Daesh* began to operate in the area.
Wærness, who speaks Arabic and was the company's security manager at that time, is accused of having been engaged in illegal contact with various rebel groups in Syria. According to the investigators, Wærness is also the first public official to admit that the Syrian branch of Lafarge gave money to terrorist groups, first in a book that came out in Norway in 2016 and then in several subsequent interviews.
In a much-talked about interview with Norwegian national broadcaster NRK, though, Wærness rejected paying money directly to terrorists.
"I never paid money directly to these groups. The only times I paid money were ransom for hostages paid to groups within the FSA [Free Syrian Army]," Wærness said.
In another interview with Norwegian A-magasinet, however, Wærness described this period as "steady deterioration," adding that "militias were constantly growing" at that time. He also admitted that money was paid by the company to what later became known as Daesh, before the group was classified as a terrorist organization.
According to Wærness, Lafarge ended up paying taxes and fees as payment for the protection of necessary resources needed for cement production, such as oil and gravel.
"It was important to keep that factory going — not for the sake of profit, because we lost money all the time, but for the goal of keeping it. This was driven too far," Wærness said.
According to the French daily Le Monde, Wærness was arrested on May 4 in the transit hall at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Incidentally, Wærness is present on the Syrian list of people to be arrested if they ever return to Syria, NRK claimed.
PST senior adviser Siv Ahlsén refused to comment on this matter.
According to the report submitted by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Lafarge paid €12.9 million ($15.4 million) to a number of local factions in Syria, between July 2012 and September 2014. A large portion of the payments was allocated to ensure the safety of the plant and the staff.
* Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/IS) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia.