Press review
20 October 2023

Press review – Week of 16 October 2023

This week, the press review looks back at the ECHR's decision on the conviction of Total and Vitol on charges of corruption, at the criminal proceedings against Vincent Bolloré and Bernard Bajolet, the former head of the French intelligence service, as well as the trial against François Bayrou and MoDem executives for embezzlement of public funds. Finally, the press review takes stock of a major Europe-wide Europol operation against human trafficking and forced labor in the agricultural sector.

 

#Criminal business law: Conviction of Total S.A. and Vitol S.A. for bribing foreign public officials in violation of the UN “oil-for-food” program does not breach Article 7 of the Convention

On 12 October 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that France had not breached Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case against Total S.A. and Vitol S.A. The latter applied to the ECHR upon being convicted under article 435-3 of the French Criminal Code in an appeal ruling, upheld by the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) in 2018, for the offence of bribing Iraqi public officials between October 2000 and March 2003. Total S.A. and Vitol S.A. argued that a conviction grounded as such was not foreseeable at the time the facts were committed. However, it appeared that they paid secret commissions, known as “surcharges”, to Iraqi officials for the purchase of oil, which was under embargo and then governed by the “oil-for-food” program of UN Security Council Resolution 986, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The Court found that the applicable law at the time was accessible and sufficiently foreseeable for the applicant companies to know that these payments were likely to entail criminal liability under Article 435-3, both separately and in combination with the rules of international law in force. > Read article

 

#Criminal business law: Corruption in Togo: Vincent Bolloré asks the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) to quash the entire procedure

Under indictment since 2018 for bribery of a foreign public official in connection with the award of the management of the Lomé harbor between 2009 and 2011, Vincent Bolloré appealed to the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) to have the entire procedure quashed. He had admitted the charges in 2021 as part of a plea-bargaining procedure (CRPC),  but the court had refused to approve the plea, even though the Bolloré group had also entered into a plea (CJIP) and his statements had been included in the validation order of this plea. Since then, he has appealed to the examining magistrate’s court (chambre de l’instruction) to have the procedure quashed on the grounds that it infringed his presumption of innocence, the fairness of the procedure and the right to fair trial, however the court only ordered the deletion of some documents relating to the CRPC. The French Supreme Court’s decision is now expected on November 29. > Read article

 

#Criminal business law: François Bayrou and MoDem executives stand trial for the parliamentary assistants case

 The trial of the MoDem parliamentary assistants case started on Monday 16 October at the Paris Criminal Court. Accused of having set up a system to misappropriate European funds to pay MoDem employees with no ties to the European Union, François Bayrou, founder of the movement, ten executives and several members of the European Parliament from the centrist party are appearing until 15 November before the 11th chamber of the court to stand trial for charges of embezzlement of public funds, complicity or concealment of embezzlement of public funds. The revelation of the facts led to Mr. Bayrou’s resignation as Minister of Justice in June 2017. > Read article

 

#Criminal law: Justice: confirmation of the indictment of Bernard Bajolet, former head of the French Foreign Security Agency (DGSE)

The examining magistrate’s court (chambre de l’instruction) of the Paris Court of Appeal rejected Bernard Bajolet’s request for the quashing of his indictment for complicity in an extortion attempt and arbitrary infringement of personal freedom by a public official. He is accused of having approved, while head of the DGSE, the interview of businessman Alain Duménil by two plainclothes agents who threatened him and ordered him to repay 15 million euros to the French state. > Read article

 

#Criminal law: 38 arrests in action against agricultural labour exploitation

Between 13 and 21 September 2023, Europol and the European Labour Authority supported Europe-wide coordinated actions against human trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation in the agricultural sector. The operation was led by France and involved a wide range of law enforcement authorities, including police, immigration and border guards, labour inspectorates and tax authorities from 17 countries. Investigators found similar modus operandi across several European countries, such as violations of laws on minimum wages or working hours, mismatches between payments and the employees’ actual working hours, employment of minors or withholding of identity or travel documents. > Read article

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