(MENAFN - Arab News) Washington — some french companies have been slow to learn that doing business in the us means obeying its laws.
us authorities are seeking a record fine against bnp paribas that would make it the first french bank since president barack obama took office to be penalized for doing business with sanctioned countries.
french companies already dominate the ranks of corruption settlements however both in numbers and the size of penalties. among the top 12 largest bribery penalties paid in the us total settled for 398 million last year technip for 338 million in 2010 and alcatel-lucent for 137 million the same year.
'there is a different culture with regard to dealing with the government and cooperating with the government than there is in the us" michael volkov a former federal prosecutor who defends companies in corruption probes said.
'in many of these cases involving french companies there's just dragging of feet and a digging in of fingernails on issues that really would not hold up other companies and as a result they pay more for their violations."
bnp which is under investigation for transactions involving sudan iran and cuba may be asked to pay more than 5 billion to resolve the matter the highest sanctions-violation penalty ever two people familiar with the talks have said.
prosecutors are also seeking a guilty plea the people said after winning one from credit suisse group recently to end a three-year tax investigation.
an agreement on bnp france's largest bank could come as soon as next month according to the people.
stephane le foll the cabinet minister who is the french government spokesman declined to comment on the bnp case when asked about it at his weekly press conference.
the french government hasn't been involved in the us discussions over paris-based bnp and views the case as a legal matter that must follow its own course according to three people familiar with the government's position.
france seldom investigates international corruption and too few of those cases make it to trial according to the most recent report from the organization for economic cooperation and development. just one company has been convicted of bribing foreign officials in france since the country outlawed the practice and that's on appeal.
france's apparent ambivalence about rooting out corruption — until 2000 bribes paid to foreign public officials were tax deductible — gave companies the false impression that they were safe from prosecution elsewhere according to stephane bonifassi a paris-based criminal defense lawyer who specializes in corruption cases at lebray & associes.
'we haven't understood that there was something serious happening in the us" he said.
'the business community is not used to being seriously regulated and we are going to learn it the hard way."
still bonifassi said laws on foreign companies' dealing with us-sanctioned countries go too far 'pushing an agenda that isn't shared by everyone."
bnp said in 2011 that it was reviewing operations to see how they complied with the office of foreign assets control's rules after talks with the us authorities. ofac administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on us foreign policy and national security goals. the bank's review focused on transactions made between 2002 and 2009 bnp said last week.
prosecutors argue that a more severe penalty against bnp is justified because the misconduct was more egregious and the bank didn't fully cooperate with the investigation according to one person with knowledge of the matter.
bnp spokeswoman carine lauru declined to comment on the investigation the allegations or the bank's cooperation when contacted by telephone.
bnp said on april 30 that it may need to pay far more than the 1.1 billion it's set aside for the matter.
the justice department is also building a bribery case against alstom that's likely to result in one of the largest us anti-corruption enforcement actions two people with knowledge of the probe said in march.
lack of cooperation has also been cited by prosecutors in that probe of alstom contracts in asia.