The French system of law is changing through DPAs.

This week, White Collar Post features a guest post from Frédéric Ruppert(1) and Maria Lancri(2)

One year after the enactment of the Sapin II Law, that set up the French Anticorruption Agency “AFA” and authorized Deferred Prosecution Agreements “DPA” à la française, the first DPA was approved by the Paris Tribunal.

Although the investigation started years before the Sapin II Law enactment and the matter involved money–laundering of tax evasion proceeds rather than corruption, this French DPA is being watched with attention as a guidance for future settlements.

It was brought together by i) the French National Financial Prosecutor “NFP,” who contributed to the Sapin II law and the DPA, with a clear understanding that business requires a dedicated and efficient tool against white–collar crimes, and ii) the negotiations with the defendant’s lawyers, after the Sapin II Law enactment.

The DPA statement of facts state that HSBC group and particularly its Swiss affiliate HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) SA “PBRS,” sent its salespeople to France to prospect new French clients or offer new products to existing clients. Most, also French tax residents, did not declare their Swiss accounts, contrary to French legal requirements. PBRS thus assisted them in illegally concealing these assets from the French tax administration. A judicial investigation was then opened; PBRS was indicted for unlawful financial and banking solicitation and aggravated money–laundering of tax evasion proceeds.

As PBRS admitted to the facts and accepted their legal characterization, which was necessary because an investigation was opened, the NFP proposed a DPA that the Tribunal approved.

Because the Justice Ministry has not yet issued any guidelines, the HSBC/PBRS DPA is valuable in understanding how authorities determined the fine paid by PBRS. It describes i) PBRS’ activity in France, ii) the number of its employees, iii) the value of the undeclared assets managed for its French clients, iv) its profits, and v) its profits derived from assets managed for French clients. From this, the authorities calculated a €86,400,000 fine for disgorgement of profits.

The compliance program of HSBC group at the time, is described by the DPA as less developed than today. It also notes that its subsidiaries, including PBRS, were allowed to conduct their business quite independently. HSBC group has since overhauled its compliance program, increased its control over its subsidiaries, withdrawn from certain markets and implemented strict financial crime, regulatory and compliance standards. At PBRS’ level, most managers were replaced, a transparency policy was implemented, some services were no longer offered and numerous clients were dropped.

Until the Sapin II Law enactment, PBRS was uncooperative, as the law did not permit settlements in such criminal matters. However, afterwards, the NFP recognized PBRS’ cooperation with authorities.

Given the seriousness of the matter, the DPA imposed an additional €71,575,422 fine, bringing PBRS’s total to the maximum available at law.

PBRS also had to indemnify the victims per the Sapin II Law, including the French Government, which was awarded damages for its €142,024,578 tax loss.

Altogether, PBRS paid €300,000,000, which HSBC Holdings guaranteed.

The advantage of DPA procedures over regular procedures is that defendants are not prohibited from participating in public procurement processes.

Incidentally, this is the major difference with World Bank procedures. It debars companies engaged in corruption or collusion from participating in any World Bank financed public procurement market. This was the case for the French company Oberthur Technologies SA., debarred for 2.5 years. It was also debarred from procurements issued by other development banks as part of the cross–debarment procedure.

 

(1) Frédéric Ruppert, Avocat à la Cour, Attorney at Law, California State Bar, Frederic’s practice is mostly focused on M&A and Private Equity and also extends to other corporate and business matters and Corporate Governance. https://www.linkedin.com/in/frederic-ruppert-2218767/ Email:  ruppert@frlaw-avocats.com

(2) Maria Lancri, Avocat à la Cour, has had a career in both private practice and in-house. She is currently of Counsel at GGV, a Franco-German law firm and specializes in Compliance matters and Data Protection and also advises companies in France on how to set up their Compliance programs: http://gg-v.fr/equipes/maria-lancri/ Email: lancri@gg-v.net

Canada takes a further step to combat international human rights violations and corruption

The Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act

Overview

On October 4, 2017, the House of Commons has unanimously voted to pass Bill S-226, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (the “Act”),[1] that is commonly known as the Magnitsky law.[2]  The law is named after Sergey Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who uncovered a large tax fraud and was detained and died in a Moscow prison on November 16, 2009.  Bill S-226 received Royal Assent on October 18, 2017.

The Act imposes various sanctions, including freezing of assets and travel bans, on foreign nationals responsible for gross violation of internationally recognized human rights and significant corruption.  Among other things, the Act permits issuing orders against anyone in or outside Canada who are dealing, directly or indirectly, with the property or financial affairs of the foreign national that is the subject of an order or regulation under the Act.

On November 3, 2017, regulations under the Act were enforced combating the activities of 52 foreign nationals who are believed to have been engaged in gross human rights violations or significant corruption activities.  The majority of the named individuals are the nationals of the Russian Federation, in addition to the nationals of Venezuela and South Sudan.  The Russian government has not welcomed the law.  It retaliated with its own list banning the entry of various Canadians into Russia.  As part of the retaliatory measures, Russia’s officials stated that the government viewed the law as yet another attempt to exert pressure on Russia.

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Take Note: Facilitation Payments Are Now Illegal Under the CFPOA

city, downtown, high rise, buildingsOn October 31, 2017,  the Government of Canada eliminated the facilitation payment exception from the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (the “CFPOA”). The elimination of this exception was the final component of significant and high profile amendments to the CFPOA enacted over four years ago, which also:

  • Expanded the jurisdiction for corruption offences based on nationality.
  • Increased the maximum penalty for an individual convicted under the legislation to 14 years.
  • Created a books and records offence.
  • Provided the RCMP with exclusive authority to lay charges under the CFPOA.

The government delayed implementation of the provision of the 2013 amendments removing the facilitation payment exception from the CFPOA to provide companies with sufficient time to modify business practices and adapt their internal controls. Despite the length of notice, it is critical for companies conducting business abroad to be mindful of this major change to the legislation.

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Canadian DPA? Cross-country consultations begin

Government of Canada Launches Consultations

More than two years ago, in the context of its procurement modernization initiative designed to ensure that it was doing business with ethical suppliers, the Government of Canada introduced a government-wide “Integrity Regime”. The Government is now seeking to review whether its objectives have been achieved. On September 25, 2017, it launched a consultation to seek stakeholders’ views on its “Integrity Regime” and took the opportunity to seek the public’s opinion on a potential deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) regime as well. The Government has published a Discussion paper entitled “Expanding Canada’s Toolkit to Address Corporate Wrongdoing: the Deferred Prosecution Agreement Stream Discussion Guide in relation to the consultation process. Stakeholders may provide their responses and comments until November 17, 2017.

DPA Regime

A DPA regime is like a diversion program that provides an alternative to criminal proceedings. Instead of going to trial, the prosecutor can make an offer to the accused to hold off on criminal charges, while the person enters into a program designed to rehabilitate them. If the accused does not comply with the terms of the agreement, the prosecution is resumed. In Canada, diversion programs are currently made available to individuals only. A DPA regime is a diversion program made available to corporations. It is often – but not always – available only for specific offences related to economic crimes.

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Des APS canadiens? Les consultations débutent

Le gouvernement canadien lance des consultations

Il y a plus de deux ans, le gouvernement canadien présentait son nouveau « régime d’intégrité ». Par ce régime, le gouvernement cherche à s’assurer qu’il fait affaire avec des fournisseurs dont le comportement est conforme à l’éthique. Dans le but de déterminer s’il a atteint ses objectifs, le 25 septembre 2017, le gouvernement lançait une consultation afin de recueillir les vues du public et des divers acteurs du milieu concernant son « régime d’intégrité ». Il en profitait pour lancer en même temps une consultation sur la possibilité d’instaurer un régime juridique permettant de  conclure, au Canada, des accords de poursuite suspendue (APS). Le « Guide de discussions » intitulé « Élargir la trousse d’outils du Canada afin d’éliminer les actes répréhensibles des entreprises : Guide de discussion sur le volet des accords de poursuite suspendue » permet d’orienter le débat. Les personnes qui désirent fournir leurs commentaires dans le contexte de cette consultation peuvent le faire jusqu’au 17 novembre 2017.

Régime juridique permettant de conclure des APS

Les APS constituent en quelque sorte l’équivalent d’un programme de déjudiciarisation. Un programme de déjudiciarisation est un programme permettant aux individus d’éviter de faire l’objet de poursuites criminelles. Dans certaines circonstances, plutôt que d’intenter un procès, le poursuivant peut offrir à l’accusé de suspendre les accusations afin de lui permettre de suivre un programme de réhabilitation. Si l’accusé ne se soumet pas aux règles qu’on lui impose dans ce contexte, la poursuite criminelle est rétablie. Au Canada, de tels programmes de déjudiciarisation sont offerts aux individus seulement. Les APS sont l’équivalent d’un programme de déjudiciarisation, mais pour les entreprises. Les APS s’appliquent normalement seulement aux crimes de nature économique, bien que cela ne soit pas toujours le cas.

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