The French: Either very good or very bad at international bribery

Total’s Christophe de Margerie may have some more explaining to do.
Total’s Christophe de Margerie may have some more explaining to do.
Image: AP Photo/Jacques Brinon
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Now that oil giant Total has agreed to pay $398 million in a US enforcement action, France has three multinationals on the list of the 10 biggest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cases ever. That’s according to Richard L. Cassin, founder and editor of the FCPA Blog, which keeps a running tally of the worst offenders.

The blog, which bills itself as “The World’s Biggest Anti-Corruption Compliance Portal,” bases its list solely on the dollar amounts of settlements with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission. That’s because the US is essentially the only aggressive prosecutor of international bribery cases in the world, even if it does settle virtually all of its cases in voluntary “deferred prosecution agreements.”

“These are the 10 biggest cases of all time, so to have three from France is amazing. In fact, it is incredible,’’ Cassin tells Quartz. Only one of the top ten cases involves American firms.

So why France? Cassin believes the Justice Department targets multinationals if their host country government appears to be uninterested or unwilling to do so, and says that has historically been the case with France. But he also says the three French scofflaws—Total, Technip and Alcatel-Lucentallegedly did foolish things like leaving paper trails connecting top executives to massive bribes, usually to foreign government officials.

The settlement by Total, one of the six “supermajor” oil companies in the world, puts it at number 4 on the FCPA Blog’s top 10 list. According to the DoJ, the deferred prosecution agreement alleges that its company officials paid at least $60 million in bribes to get access to Iranian oil and gas fields, and made more than $150 million in profit, which Total will now have to give back. Separately, prosecutors in Paris have now recommended bringing embezzlement and corruption charges against Total’s chairman and CEO, Christophe de Margerie, as well as the company itself. (The Wall Street Journal reports that Total said that “the company and Mr. de Margerie acted in accordance with all applicable French laws.”)

Technip, a Paris-based oil and gas services company, was one of the partners of a KBR-led consortium accused of paying $182 million in bribes to Nigerian officials. It settled in 2010 and agreed to pay $338 million. And Alcatel-Lucent and three of its subsidiaries paid $137 million in 2010 to settle charges that they had made payments that went to officials of several countries; the former president of Costa Rica, Miguel Angel Rodríguez, was later convicted by a Costa Rican court of taking over $800,000 in bribes from the company.

Here are the top ten FCPA cases against companies, according to FCPA Blog. (An individual, Jeffrey Tesler of the UK, agreed to an FCPA-related forfeiture of $149 million in 2011.)

1. Siemens (Germany): $800 million in 2008.

2. KBR / Halliburton (USA): $579 million in 2009.

3. BAE (UK): $400 million in 2010.

4. Total S.A. (France) $398 million in 2013.

5. Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V. / ENI S.p.A (Holland/Italy): $365 million in 2010.

6. Technip S.A. (France): $338 million in 2010.

7. JGC Corporation (Japan) $218.8 million in 2011.

8. Daimler AG (Germany): $185 million in 2010.

9. Alcatel-Lucent (France): $137 million in 2010.

10. Magyar Telekom / Deutsche Telekom (Hungary /Germany): $95 million in 2011.