French companies will face spot checks, new corruption agency's head says

21 June 2017 10:35am

13 June 2017. By Martin Coyle.

French companies will face unannounced corruption spot checks, the head of the country's new white-collar crime agency has announced.

The new agency "has a lot of punch" despite having no investigatory or prosecutorial powers, said Charles Duchaine, president of Agence Française Anticorruption, or AFA.

Speaking at a conference in Paris today, Duchaine said the AFA would go beyond merely helping businesses to avoid getting involved in corruption. Companies will be targeted with unannounced "on-the-spot" checks by agency officials looking for documents.

Although the agency cannot compel companies to hand over documents, Duchaine warned that executives hindering an agency probe would be reported to magistrates.

"If a document should disappear, that would be pretty suicidal. We will get to the bottom of it," he said.

The agency will also take a close look at suspicious payments that companies make to suppliers, as these could indicate corruption, Duchaine said. "Financial flows will be useful . . . to trigger investigations,' he said.

Although the agency is still finding its feet and will take a "realistic approach" to ensuring compliance, it will take a firm approach, Duchaine said.

"I won't accept any superficial attempts to fob us off with a compliance program that has no meat," he said.

Sapin II

The agency was formally established as part of a raft of measures and laws designed to fight corruption by larger companies under France's Sapin II legislation, which was passed last December.

The law compels companies to put in place compliance measures to prevent corruption. The AFA will assist companies to draw up compliance processes, and has the power to punish companies whose systems and controls are lax. It will also put in place a national anticorruption plan.

The AFA so far has only seven of the roughly 70 staff it hopes to recruit, and has still to set out its procedures. Company monitoring hasn't started yet, and companies will be given "sufficient time" to set up their compliance processes, Duchaine said.

He expects companies to take the right approach after that. "Companies will have to show they are really trying. They will need to show goodwill. A sincere and genuine effort to be compliant will be taken into account," he said.

Nor should companies expect to be spoonfed on how to combat corruption, he stressed: "The law states an objective of compliance has to be reached, but it is up to the company on how this is reached."

Companies should expect to know what corruption risks they face, and act accordingly, he added.

No twiddling

Duchaine pledged to ensure that the fledgling agency would make a difference. "I'm not about to set out for six years of my life to twiddle my thumbs," he said.

"There is no way I will be paying 70 salaries with taxpayer money if they aren't going to be useful. I want us to play a leadership role and an exemplary role," he said.

The Sapin II legislation will apply to companies with 500 or more employees and with turnovers of 100 million euros ($112 million) or more. It will also apply to smaller companies that are part of larger conglomerates fitting those criteria.

The AFA will report to the country's Ministry of Justice.

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