French bribery plea deals inspired by UK model

31 January 2017 9:54am

First published on MLex 22 November 2016. By Martin Coyle.

France decided to give companies the chance to settle bribery allegations through plea deals following meetings with the UK’s Serious Fraud Office late last year, MLex has learned.

Companies that reach a deal avoid criminal prosecution in bribery cases by paying fines.

French government officials were impressed with the SFO’s use of the plea deals, known as deferred prosecution agreements, and decided to include them in the country’s new law designed to tackle corruption, the “Loi Sapin II.”

Lawmakers adopted the bill earlier this month, and it will come into force next year. But members of the French bar have raised concerns about the legality of the plea deals, which will lack judicial oversight.

French judges will have to approve the agreements, but won’t have a say in the negotiations. UK judges, in contrast, are involved from the beginning in a bid to allay concerns that some companies could get off lightly.

French businesses that settle will have to pay fines of up to 30 percent of their sales, plus an amount in damages. They may also have to put in place compliance programs to prevent further failures. By avoiding criminal charges, companies will still be able to bid for public contracts with agencies including the World Bank, which bar companies convicted of corruption charges.

The SFO has secured only two deals since settlements became possible in the UK in 2014. ICBC Standard Bank agreed to pay $32 million in November last year. And an unnamed company, referred to as XYZ, paid $6.5 million in July to settle a bribery investigation.

The UK agency has said that more agreements are in the pipeline.

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