Prosecuting transnational corruption: France in the dock

The OECD has accused France of not responding effectively to the problem of international corruption.

The third monitoring report on France’s implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention did cite some progress: efforts have been taken to make businesses aware of the need to fight corruption and implement corruption prevention measures.

But the rest of the report is a litany of failures matched by our own reports:

Transparency International France recently launched a campaign to help French people understand what forms corruption is taking in France. As part of the campaign, the chapter is collecting signatures on a petition.

Few cases brought before the court

Since France’s accession to the OECD convention twelve years ago, very few companies have felt the force of the law.

Just 33 legal proceedings have been initiated since 2000. There have only been five convictions.

These figures are low; particularly when we take into account France’s economic power and the exposure of its businesses to the risk of corruption, and also when we compare the number of cases completed in other countries, such as the United States (275) and Germany (176).

Independence of prosecutors

The OECD has counted 38 cases which “did not even result in a preliminary investigation,” although French businesses were involved. One problem is that prosecutors lack independence from leaders in government.

Investigators lack support

Even when cases are started, authorities lack the means to complete them.

It is striking that France lacks specialist investigators for corporate crime. The Central Anti-Bribery Brigade should be given stronger resources.

French law is too restrictive: in order to sanction crimes of corruption, prosecutors must prove a “pact of corruption” between the corrupter and the corrupted.

The fact that the offence must be “punished by the legislation of the country where it was committed,” also restricts the number of proceedings.

The penalties for companies that bribe are too small

Today, France fines businesses charged with bribing foreign governments no more than €750 000.  This cap should be raised.

French multinational Safran was recently found guilty in France of bribing foreign public officials and fined 500 000 euros. This amount seems insignificant in light of the value of the contract won: 214 million dollars. This fine is therefore neither dissuasive nor proportionate.

France now has one year to respond verbally to the criticisms levelled by the OECD, and two years in which to outline precise commitments in writing. An affair to follow…

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