Sunday

5th Feb 2023

France restricts international corruption investigations

French legislation restricts prosecutors in investigating international corruption cases, a report by the Council of Europe's anti-corruption group (GRECO) shows.

"France has severely restricted its jurisdiction and its ability to prosecute cases with an international dimension, which, given the country's importance in the international economy and the scale of many of its companies, is very

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regrettable," the report states.

The report, approved by the French government, was published on Thursday (12 March). The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) was established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor member states' compliance with anti-corruption standards.

According to the report, French prosecutors have no jurisdiction in prosecuting foreign companies that have bribed French public officials abroad. Complicity in any offence committed by a French person abroad is only investigated if a final decision in foreign courts has been reached.

"This provision makes it very difficult to prosecute acts of complicity that also include, for example, the instigation by the parent company in France of a corruption offence committed by a local branch abroad," GRECO comments.

Also, offences committed abroad can only be investigated at the request of the foreign prosecutors and following a complaint from the victim or his or her beneficiaries, or an official report by the authorities of the country where the offence was committed. This poses problems particularly when dealing with corruption cases of public officials in other countries.

Although in broad terms, France's legal system is fairly effective combatting corruption, GRECO "wondered why, despite the economic weight of France and its close historical links with certain regions of the world considered to be rife with corruption, it has not yet imposed any penalties for bribing foreign public officials," the report states, alluding to France's former African colonies.

"The French authorities explain this situation by the recent implementation of the law of 13 November 2007, the length of criminal investigations and the complexity of mutual legal assistance with certain regions of the world," the report adds.

Earlier this week, UK-based NGO Global Witness named several French banks in a report unveiling their connections with corrupt regimes in Africa and Central Asia.

Barclays in Paris held a private account for Teodorin Obiang, a scion of the ruling family in Equitorial Guinea, who in the past 10 years spent €4.5 million on sports cars even as 20 percent of children die before their fifth birthday due to poverty in the oil-rich country. Until March 2007, BNP Paribas was involved in billions of euros of syndicated loans to the Angola ruling elite-linked oil firm Sonangol, Global Witness writes.

Anti-corruption petition

"As a leading economy, France should ensure that its cross-border investigations of bribery and financial crimes are properly resourced, independent and supportive of mutual legal assistance," Jana Mittermaier, head of Transparency International's Brussels office told EUobserver.

"It is a major stumbling block that in EU member states, the national investigative and prosecutorial capacities are often inadequate for the challenges of complex and cross-border cases of financial crimes," she added.

Transparency International and Global Witness both supported a cross-party online petition against corruption urging the EU commission and member states to propose legislation and to come forward with mechanisms to fight corruption in general and in particular in EU relations with third countries.

"State looting in resource-rich developing countries can reportedly equal national debt, with funds often siphoned off into overseas bank accounts, frequently in Europe. Those who steal state money often come to Europe to spend it and enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. This must stop," the petition text reads.

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