In an ongoing exchange on this blog, Susan Hawley and Matthew Stephenson have debated the desirability and practicality of global standards for the settlement of foreign bribery cases (see here, here, here, and here). A key country at issue in this discussion is France, which has bucked the trend among its peer nations – including the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany – toward resolving foreign corruption cases through negotiated resolution. In fact, France has increasingly come under fire from organizations like the OECD, the EU, and Transparency International for its failure to hold corrupt companies accountable at all – over the past 16 years, the French government has not secured a single corporate conviction for overseas bribery. As Sarah convincingly argued on this blog, the reason is not that French companies are less corrupt or that French authorities are less capable, but rather that procedural barriers prevent productive investigation and resolution of cases. Primarily, the French civil law system lacks a settlement mechanism by which companies can negotiate lighter penalties in exchange for fines and cooperation. France is thus an important target for legal and policy reform affecting out-of-court settlement procedures.
Until very recently, the French government was poised to undertake such reform. Late last year, French Minister of Finance Michel Sapin developed legislation aimed at strengthening the fight against corruption. The draft version of Loi Sapin II, as it is known, contained provisions that put in place a new national anticorruption agency with investigative and oversight powers, enhanced compliance requirements, greater protections for whistleblowers, and stricter disclosure protocols for public officials. The most powerful and controversial element of Loi Sapin II, however, was the “convention de compensation d’intérêt public” (CCIP). Also known as a transaction pénale, the CCIP is a settlement mechanism modeled on the American deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). This tool would have allowed agreements between companies and the government, by which an accused corporation would institute compliance measures and pay fines (capped at 30% of average revenue over the preceding three years) in lieu of facing prosecution.
Just before the text of the law was formally presented, however, the Conseil d’État – the government body that must review draft legislation sponsored by non-parliamentarians before it can be introduced in Parliament – issued a negative opinion on the CCIP. When the text was submitted to the government on March 30, it did not include the transaction pénale. Procedurally speaking, the provision isn’t yet dead – it may still be reintroduced by members of Parliament. Nevertheless, the opinion of the Conseil d’État says a lot about France’s approach to anticorruption, trends in global enforcement, and the prospects for universal settlement standards in a world where legal cultures differ substantially.