"Prevention is better than cure. Create a compliance culture and prevent any issues from arising by having internal alerts and best practice procedures in place."

Natasha Tardif

1. What is bribery?

French criminal law prohibits payment or receipt of a bribe and influence peddling in both the public and private sectors. This includes: (i) promising or requesting a bribe; and (ii) paying or receiving a bribe at home or abroad.

2. What are the exceptions/defences?

Once an act of bribery or influence peddling has been proved, there are few defences available. However, a business could demonstrate the existence of certain circumstances as a potential defence: for example, coercion, imminent danger, etc.

This is nonetheless difficult to prove and rarely accepted by the French Courts, particularly with regard to companies (as opposed to individuals). The level of sanction may be reduced if a business can show there were adequate procedures in place designed to prevent bribery, and will also depend on the extent of the offence and whether it is a repeat offence.

3. What are the sanctions?

Sanctions can include a maximum of ten years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of €1,000,000 (individuals) or €5,000,000 (legal entities), this amount may be increased up to twice the benefit resulting from the offence, for bribery and for influence peddling in the public sector. In respect of the private sector, penalties can be up to five years imprisonment and a maximum fine of €500,000 (individuals) or €2,500,000 (legal entities). This amount may be increased up to twice the benefit resulting from the offence.

Additional discretionary penalties include (i) confiscation of the object used or intended to be used for the commission of the offence; (ii) publication of the decision; (iii) prohibition of the activity in the exercise or on the occasion of which the offence was committed for a maximum of five years; (iv) placing under judicial supervision for a maximum of five years; (v) closure of the company’s establishments used to commit the offence for a maximum of five years; and (vi) exclusion from public procurement procedures for a maximum of five years.

In 2015, the French Ministry of Economy began a project to reform French antibribery legislation through the Transparency in the Economic Sphere Bill. If this becomes law, it will create a new obligation to implement compliance programmes for all companies employing at least 500 employees and will create a new anti-bribery agency with investigation and enforcement powers. The bill also seeks to create a new offence under the French Criminal Code of bribery or influence peddling of a foreign public officer, even where it does not constitute an offence in the foreign country, as well as an additional penalty in the case of bribery or influence peddling where there has been a failure to implement a compliance programme, leading to up to 2 years imprisonment and a fine of up to €2,000,000 for companies.