On 22 December 2014, France’s failure to fight global corruption was illustrated by Alstom’s agreement to pay a fine of $ 772 million to the US Government, the highest to date, for corrupt practises around the world over a 10 year period.
This event, which has not received much attention in the French media, illustrates a double failure :
First, the lack of real political will to introduce criminal actions for bribery where it could possibly weaken our national « champions » in their exports. Second, the inadequacy of the judicial remedies being applied to crime in international business deals.
Transparency International France has for several years highlighted, in its progress reports on the 1997 OECD Convention, the absence of any conviction by French courts while other major exporting countries, UK and Germany, not to mention the USA, show a constantly improving record.
The practise of concluding out of court settlements enabled first the United States and more recently some of our closest neighbouring countries to overcome the obstacle of the finding of evidence, of the length of time and the cost of investigations. The reluctance of the French judiciary to adopt these new tools is due, in our view, more to an insufficient training of judges and to cultural factors rather than to unsurmountable legal obstacles.
The small size of penalties ordered in the few French court decisions handed out in cross- border corruption cases does not provide any deterrent effect: why should a company or individual agree to a plea bargain where normal proceedings will result, many years later, only in a nominal penalty?
Transparency International France expresses the wish that the Alstom case will trigger in France the long awaited shock permitting the reinforcement of the preventive tools and the punitive framework applicable to corruption, and will present in the coming weeks our proposals to this effect.
Transparency International France invites the Alstom board of directors to respond at board level, to the violations which have thus been disclosed.
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