France lacks both the mean and the will to properly tackle corporate bribery of foreign officials, an OECD panel said on Tuesday, calling on Paris to tighten its laws and hike fines.
With only 33 bribery investigations and five convictions since a bribery ban came into force in 2000, France is failing to net enough offenders given French firms' extensive interests abroad, the group monitoring an OECD anti-bribery pact said.
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"The applied and available penalties, along with the lack of any recourse to measures to confiscate the proceeds of corruption do not appear to be effective, proportionate or dissuasive," the group said in a report.
"France should increase the maximum fines and make full use of confiscation and additional penalties that are available under the law, in particular debarment from public procurement," it added.
Thirty-nine countries including most of the industrialised world - but not China and India - have signed a 1997 convention to combat bribery in international business transactions.
The convention was drawn up by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and signatory nations are monitored by working groups made up of officials from other member countries.
While French authorities have not breached the convention, they frequently interpret what constitutes bribery too narrowly, allowing cases to slip through the cracks, the report said.
It found that French authorities too often did not pursue foreign bribery cases on the grounds that the offences took place outside of French jurisdiction, even though evidence could often be tracked back to France.
The group also said France did not devote enough resources towards tackling foreign bribery by French firms, which it said also explained the lack of success in prosecuting offenders.
(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Alison Williams)