PARIS — France has been an early and eager supporter of international anticorruption initiatives.
It was among the first to sign the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2000 Anti-Bribery Convention and the 2004 United Nations Convention Against Corruption, and, in 2009, it led an effort by the Group of 20 nations to bring the world’s tax havens to heel.
But when it comes to putting words into action, France lags behind other Western countries. In October, a working group of the O.E.C.D. said it was “seriously concerned” by the “lackluster response” by the French authorities.
“France is the bad student in the class when it comes to enforcement,” said Daniel Lebègue, president of Transparency International France, who noted that in 15 years, only four French individuals, and not a single company, have been convicted of paying bribes overseas.
The problem is that this has left the field to other countries — notably the United States, which has aggressively pursued American and foreign companies on bribery charges around the world and received a windfall in the process. In the last four years, the United States Department of Justice has taken home more than $1.3 billion in negotiated fines from four major French companies.
The biggest settlement came in December in the case of Alstom, the French engineering giant, which paid the United States a record $772 million, surpassing fines imposed on Siemens of Germany and on American companies including Alcoa and KBR.