Wednesday, April 24, 2019
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Matignon prepares the response to American justice

The government does not sit idly by in the face of US judicial investigations. While the stock Nokia fell on the stock market Friday after reporting problems of compliance of the former Alcatel to the US authorities and Airbus cooperates with the Department of Justice and the British authorities, 21 foreign companies out of 26 prosecuted – including 14 European – have already been sentenced for corruption in the United States. And they paid more than 60% of the $ 8.87 billion in fines. Of these, there is absolutely nothing "No companies of Chinese and Russian origin" stresses the report of the Gauvain mission launched by Matignon last summer to identify the measures of protection of companies against these extraterritorial procedures.

EXCLUSIVE Strategic Interests: Matignon prepares the response to US justice

And yet these amounts do not take into account the most severe economic sanctions inflicted by the United States, all of which targeted European companies (BNP Paribas, HSBC, Commerzbank) for $ 12.3 billion. Figures that " warrant, points the report today on the table of the Prime Minister, and that "Les Echos" were able to consult, The interpretations tending to detect the signs of an instrumentalization of the American judicial system for the purposes of economic war against Europe ".

The services of the Prime Minister are working with the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Justice on nine proposals to reform the 1968 blocking law.

Few or no penalties

This text was intended to provide companies with the means to oppose foreign authorities, by prohibiting them, under pain of punishment, to provide information undermining the sovereignty and essential economic interests of France, is revealed today completely ineffective. Like the prohibition on any person from using essential data as evidence in foreign judicial or administrative proceedings.

The threat of sanctions of 18,000 euros and six months' imprisonment, applied in part, is not likely to deter leaders from cooperating in the face of losing all access to the American market. Only a sanction was pronounced at the end of 2007 in the context of the dispute over the purchase of Executive Life by Crédit Lyonnais. And for the United States and British authorities, these provisions are not opposable to their procedures.

The executive is therefore considering toughening the law. The mission calls for an increase in penalties to 2 million euros for a natural person, with two years in prison, and up to 10 million euros for a company.

The economic security service at the center of the game

Before arriving at such fines, however, the executive intends to put the French state back at the center of the proceedings. "It is essential to remind the foreign authorities that there is a legislative framework and that it must necessarily go through the French administration", considers an actor of the reform.

If the companies are challenged by a foreign authority, its leaders would be obliged to report to the Sisse, the service of Bercy in charge of economic security. This type of obligation already exists in the control of foreign acquisitions in France, companies may request an opinion ("rescript" in the administrative language).

In the case of judicial proceedings, however, this declaration would be mandatory, based on the recommendations made. Otherwise, the State would impose a fine of around 50,000 euros to companies.

High-risk reform of lawyers' opinions

Once in the hands of Bercy, his department will determine whether the procedure falls within the scope of the blocking law, that is to say, if it is likely to force the company to reveal data of "national interest ". The latter will flip the procedure to the right interlocutor within the state apparatus.

"Many data will not have this character"nevertheless stresses one close to the mission. To protect companies, it therefore advocates a second firewall, which would prevent disclosure of opinions issued by corporate lawyers (the "legal privilege"). But this is probably the most controversial part: this reform has been retold at least eight times in twenty years.

To note

The government released Thursday the decree reforming the governance of economic security policy, and the role of the Service of Strategic Information (Sisse)

Anne Drif

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