France: Bribery & Corruption 2020

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Brief overview of the law and enforcement regime

France has seen major changes in bribery and corruption law since the landmark 9 December 2016 Law on transparency, corruption and modernisation of the economy (the "Sapin II" law), France's version of the FCPA.

Today, two key bodies of law make up France's anticorruption framework: criminal statutes on corruption (mostly in the French Penal Code); and the uncodified part of the above-mentioned "Sapin II" law that imposes anticorruption compliance obligations on corporations.

French criminal law: A complex web of bribery and corruption offences

French criminal bribery and corruption statutes are notoriously complex (an author counts as many as 34 separate criminal offences for bribery and influence peddling alone), and explicitly cover a wide range of situations and possible perpetrators.

While it would take too long to list all the applicable offences, current provisions of the French Penal Code on bribery distinguish between bribery and influence peddling. Bribery implies the improper use of authority associated with one's function, while influence peddling ("traffic d'influence"), implies the improper use of one's actual or alleged influence (e.g. to get another official to do or not to do something). They are different offences but usually carry the same maximum sentences.

These provisions punish both the briber and the bribed party. For each type of bribery or influence peddling, each party in the quid pro quo is covered symmetrically by a different offence. Depending on the individual's actions (i.e. giving or receiving the bribe), the charge will be of "active" or "passive" bribery (this also applies for influence peddling), and two parties to the "transaction" may even get different judicial outcomes.

In this respect, it is worth noting that a wide range of bribed officials or individuals, including private agents, can be sentenced. Separate provisions and lines of case law cover the bribery of public officials (defined broadly), of officials of international public organisations (like the EU), of judicial officials, of private officials (e.g. officers of a company in charge of procurement), and of foreign government officials.

Fines and prison sentences vary for each specific offence (e.g. 10 years' imprisonment and a €1m fine for active bribery of a foreign public agent). Following the general rule of art. 131-38 of the French Penal Code, fines are quintupled for legal persons. Additionally, under art. L.2141 of the French Public Tenders Code ("Code des marchés publics"), corporations convicted of bribery or certain other offences may be excluded from public tenders for a set time period.


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