Although France has ratified and implemented various international conventions against corruption (OECD and UN Conventions on Bribery and Corruption), it is disappointing to note that there have been only two minor convictions in France in relation to corruption of foreign public officials over the last ten years compared to 42 in Germany .

A report published by Transparence Internationale (French branch of Transparency International)  portrays a rather bleak state of affairs for the Judiciary in France in charge of cases relating to corruption (justice financière) which appears to be unable, due to a serious lack of resources, to investigate and pursue corruption matters properly.

In particular, this report shows that:

  • Both the police and the judiciary are understaffed and lack experienced investigators to deal with complex issues relating to corruption.  Between 2009 and 2011, the number of judges within the Financial Crime Section at the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris dropped from 46 to 39. 
  • The small number of successful prosecutions is due to the increased role played by the government at the investigation stage of corruption cases.  Prosecutors in France receive instructions from the government and are not independent.  The hierarchy which exists in France between the prosecutors and the Ministry of Justice has been criticised by the Council of Europe and was also condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (Medvedyev v France 10 July 2008) which held that French prosecutors “lack in particular of independence towards the Executive” and as a result cannot be considered to be a judicial authority which can guarantee the rule of law. 
  •  French Judges lack the power to prosecute the corruption offences when such offences have been committed abroad.  Under the current legislation, French judges only have jurisdiction in respect of corruption offences where either the offender or the victim is a French national and the facts relating to the offence also constitute an offence in the country where they were committed.  Further, prosecutors have exclusive jurisdiction as regard investigations of corruption of foreign public officials outside the European Union.

Transparence Internationale recommends:

  • The creation of a “Prosecutor General of the Nation” which would be independent from the Ministry of Justice and the executive and would be in charge of overseeing prosecutors’ activities for a period of five to six years.
  •  A review of the French Official Secrets Act, which has been used recently by the Executive in connection with corrupt matters being investigated to prevent disclosure of classified information.
  • The introduction of plea bargaining agreements in order to speed up the resolution of corruption cases.

It is hoped that the coming presidential election in 2012 will enable candidates and political parties to put forward proposals in line with Transparence Internationale recommendations to ensure that the fight against corruption in France is not mere lip service.