The French government has recently renewed its attempts to establish an effective arsenal of legal provisions to protect companies' confidential business information. The bill proposed a new criminal offence of the mere disclosure of protected information, punishable by up to three years' imprisonment and a €375,000 fine. However, although the bill initially received support from various stakeholders, it was eventually withdrawn.
The Constitutional Council recently ruled on several provisions of the Finance Bill 2015 which a group of members of the Senate and the National Assembly had argued did not comply with the Constitution. The council upheld all provisions submitted to its review except for Article 79, which created a new offence of facilitating tax evasion and fraud, and which the council held violated a fundamental constitutional principle.
A new independent institution, the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life, aims to strengthen financial reporting requirements for ministers, parliamentarians and other elected officials. It is designed to receive, review and publish declarations submitted by national elected representatives and other public officials in accordance with new disclosure requirements.
A recent decree established a new central authority within the criminal police, tasked with investigating corruption and financial and tax offences, in particular within the context of elections and political financing. However, a potential overlap with other central authorities raises doubts as to the need for another such institution.
France has adopted Law 2013-672 on the separation and regulation of banking activities, with the aim of increasing oversight of the banking sector, preventing banking crises and protecting clients. In addition to what the Ministry of Economy called the "excesses of financial activities", such as high frequency trading, oversight provisions cover the core mandate of Tracfin: money laundering and terrorist financing.
The government recently adopted legislation that strengthens the legal framework combating money laundering and terrorist financing. Two new decrees implement the European Union's risk-based approach by reinforcing prevention obligations in high-risk situations. Further, a new law aims to modernise the regime by including e-money institutions among the professional bodies that are subject to prevention obligations.
According to the Criminal Code, money laundering presupposes the commission of an earlier criminal offence. In a recent decision the Supreme Court confirmed that the statute of limitations for that earlier criminal offence has no bearing on the limitation period for the money laundering offence.
In light of its next evaluation by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development working group on corruption, the Ministry of Justice recently drafted a circular in order to underline new criminal measures, emphasise the current framework on detection, raise awareness of international corruption and set out criminal policy objectives in the field.
The recently enacted France-Lebanon Mutual Assistance Convention marks a major advancement in cooperation on criminal matters between the two countries. Among other things, the convention asserts that the notion of banking confidentiality cannot be upheld in cases of financial crime and provides for cooperation between the authorities of both states in the investigation and prosecution of financial offences.
A year ago, the Constitutional Council declared the system of garde à vue (preliminary police custody) partially unconstitutional, in particular because it did not sufficiently guarantee suspects' defence rights. The law that came into effect on June 1 2011 aims to restrict the number and length of gardes à vue and strengthen suspects' defence rights. It could also impact on proceedings involving gardes à vue that took place prior to June 1.
France is in the midst of a debate over a proposed law reforming its garde à vue (preliminary police custody) procedure. However, even though the current system is heavily criticised, it appears that only modest reform is likely. Although the draft law passed by the National Assembly meets certain EU and constitutional requirements, exceptions remain to allow the right to legal assistance to be deferred.