Former French Finance Minister Michel Sapin and four other panelists convened last week at the Panthéon-Assas University’s historical Place du Panthéon campus in Paris to discuss the application of the Sapin II law that came into effect in December 2016.
Antoine Gaudemet, professor at Panthéon-Assas University, and Emmanuel Breen, professor at the International Anti-Corruption Academy, moderated the June 13 event, which was organized by Assas’s Compliance Officer University Diploma.
Mr. Sapin kicked off the round table discussion by describing the law’s major sources of inspiration.
First, he said Sapin II was designed to enhance the capacity of the French Parquet National Financier (PNF) and the newly established French Anticorruption Agency (Agence Française Anticorruption – AFA) to prosecute wrongdoers and prevent corruption.
Second, the law was enacted to preserve the competitiveness of the French economy. Mr. Sapin explained that the French government’s inability to address issues of transparency and corruption had damaged France’s international reputation and had become a handicap to its economy.
Finally, the law was passed in order to retake France’s sovereignty. Mr. Sapin said he found it “shocking” that other countries, such as the United States, were prosecuting and imposing fines on French companies without the French government knowing these violations had occurred in the first place.
The head of the PNF, Eliane Houlette, and the Director of AFA, Charles Duchaine, were also speakers on the panel.
According to Mr. Duchaine, the AFA’s ability to monitor subject companies and impose sanctions is compelling them to implement veritable compliance programs as opposed to the “artificial compliance” they practiced in the past.
Ms. Houlette confirmed that Sapin II is an undeniable improvement to its predecessors. She explained that it modernized the methods through which white-collar criminals can be prosecuted in France. For instance, Sapin II grants the PNF the ability to offer legal persons suspected of having committed an act of corruption a Convention judiciaire d’intérêt public (CJIP) or what is commonly known as a deferred prosecution agreement.
Ms. Houlette, described in detail the PNF’s first coordinated resolution with the U.S. Department of Justice, in which the French and U.S. authorities had announced a CJIP agreement with Paris-based Société Générale. She said that despite the considerable difference in size and resources between the two authorities, the PNF and the DOJ cooperated effectively on a number of key issues throughout the prosecution, including the parameters of the investigation, the allocation of the fines between the two countries and the exchange of evidence.
Eric Thomas, General Counsel of the Lagardère Group, said most companies recognize the importance of compliance but urged the AFA not to underestimate the effort and time required to implement effective compliance programs.
Finally, Stefano Manacorda, professor of Criminal Law at the University of Naples, explained that while Sapin II provided a “fascinating” alternative approach to anti-corruption, viewed from abroad the law also seemed mysterious and “somewhat menacing” because it is not entirely clear as to which companies are covered by its extraterritorial effect.
Justin P. Campbell holds a JD from University of California Hastings College of the Law and an LLM in European Law from Panthéon-Assas University in Paris. He will soon be starting an internship at Skadden Arps’ Paris office.