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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Stéphane Bonifassi

Stéphane Bonifassi

Bonifassi Avocats34 boulevard HaussmannParisFrance75009
Watch interview with Stéphane Bonifassi

Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader
WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is “the go-to lawyer in France” for business crime matters and wins high praise from sources, one of whom comments, “He takes a very pragmatic approach and gets the work done.”

Questions & Answers

Litigator Stéphane Bonifassi has practised complex financial criminal law for nearly 30 years. He counsels individuals, companies and states affected by illicit schemes and other financial crimes, and is often consulted in high-stakes litigation. In these endeavours he is assisted by members of the Paris-based boutique law firm he leads, Bonifassi Avocats. He co-founded the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, a collaboration of litigation professionals working with the Basel Institute on Governance to expand worldwide access to solutions in economic crime cases.

What has been your most interesting case to date and why?

Two cases come to mind. In the first, I advised counsel to a deposed Eastern European president and marshalled court action to jettison an Interpol red notice. Our team came up with the idea of suing Interpol in France, where it’s based. That tactic worked and in one week, I succeeded at getting the red notice lifted. It was a red blitz.

In the second case, a French company sold engines to the Iranian navy. Did that violate European sanctions? France sued the directors and I got them off by making the argument that engines are not weapons.

Why did you co-found the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, and how has it enhanced financial crime practice?

The Academy, as we call it, is in its initial phase. Members have met four times for highly interactive examinations of their cases and other aspects of the practice of economic criminal law. From these energetic gatherings emerge fresh ideas and healthy debate over some of the most nettlesome problems driving international cooperation in the interests of victims and the accused in the world of asset recovery and financial crime.

What did you find most challenging about entering business crime and asset recovery practice?

Well, it’s not challenging because I like it. I appreciate a good fight. In both practices they’re the most challenging because the stakes are high. Is someone going to jail? Did someone lose a huge chunk of money? If either answer is yes, the case is bound to be complex.

How has the market changed since you first started practising?

Compliance programmes and internal investigations have emerged in the area of business crime defence because they can be used as leverage to settle criminal cases. That is the crucial new element that has emerged over the past decade. Here, skilled litigators may not handle the in-house procedures, but they do the strategic analysis of predicting prosecutorial decisions and conducting the defence. In asset recovery cases, where settlements generally are not an option, firms like mine are more likely than they used to be to combine asset recovery with white-collar criminal defence

How do you prepare as a litigator for a large, cross-border financial crime matter?

To strategise against smart (crooked) people represented by smart lawyers, you must put yourself into their minds. Then use all the tools you can muster to thwart them at every level of the judicial, investigative and regulatory systems. If we are defending clients in white-collar cases, again, strategy is paramount. You can’t just be reactive, but must play one or two moves ahead on the multi-dimensional chessboard.

Why did you decide to start your own firm in this field?

A team can always cover more ground than any single individual. Since opening Bonifassi Avocats in 2017, I have been fortunate to assemble a group of colleagues whose skills complement mine and each other’s. They are as diverse as the types of matters our firm handles and their backgrounds make them particularly flexible and capable of handling international legal matters.

As a founder of the firm, what are your main priorities for development over the next five years?

We must continue to prove, case by case, that our boutique law firm is every bit as capable as “big law” of tackling the most complex and far-flung cases. We offer a personal touch for both international and domestic matters that is uniquely our own.  Once they step across our threshold, clients appreciate this greatly.

You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?

I would like to work toward making the Academy an international thought leader in the generation of solutions to economic crimes. We say the Academy is where theory meets practice, so the collaboration between experienced litigation service providers and noted academics should continue to be fruitful. Word of what we’re doing will spread and generate reaction, both pro and con, but that’s what we want. The more people who discuss and debate the Academy’s proposals and studies, the better.

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is a “very experienced” white-collar crime lawyer, hailed for his market-leading expertise in high-value corporate investigations.

Questions & Answers

Litigator Stéphane Bonifassi specialises in multi-jurisdictional business crime and fraud, corruption, asset recovery, forfeiture and confiscation, as well as enforcement of judgments and internal investigations. He co-founded the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, a collaboration of litigation professionals working with the Basel Institute on Governance to expand worldwide access to solutions in economic crime cases.

What challenges have you faced defending individuals while internal investigations are taking place?

Ultimately, for the defence lawyer, it is about making sure that the internal investigation is not going to make the case worse for the client. This needs serious preparation and presents an interesting challenge. At this stage, I have not concluded that my client would be better off not cooperating with an internal investigation, but it could be considered as a potential option by the defence lawyer.

What are some common pitfalls you have faced when conducting internal investigations?

My most serious encounter yet occurred as I acted as adviser to a company and its board in an internal investigation that was being handled by another firm. The firm handling the investigation was exceeding the budget and committed to uncovering wrongdoings (present or not). Aside from the expected challenges, the board faced additional pressure from the conducting firm to keep them involved and engaged. While I was not involved in the hiring of the conducting firm, the experience underscored the crucial importance of hiring ethical professionals whose fees are not the only driver of conduct. The client managed to terminate the initial conducting firm’s involvement. A new firm was retained to complete an orderly and ethical investigation to the satisfaction of all parties, including the company, which was finally able to take necessary remediation measures.

Are internal investigations and self-denunciation the new norm for companies facing increasing scrutiny?

It’s hard to say. Internal investigations in France are still driven by the international environment. Demands for such probes come from the UK, the US and Germany. However, because of the adoption of deferred prosecution agreements under the Sapin II anti-corruption law, we could see that change. We are seeing more spontaneous internal investigations in France, and by spontaneous I mean those that occur without any external requests or other kinds of motivators.

What are the main takeaways from the recent Airbus resolution for foreign lawyers?

The adoption of deferred prosecution agreements allowed French prosecutors access to a situation involving a company with strong French ties and acts committed in whole or in part in France. Thus, it is important for such tools to be implemented in a jurisdiction, otherwise that jurisdiction would be left behind the resolution of large international cases, and so would the local bar. This resolution also signals that French enforcement authorities have to be taken seriously when a case touches France.

Have you noticed any particular trends or patterns in how sentencing is being approached in cases? 

Companies are facing larger financial sanctions than in the recent past. Airbus and UBS are clear examples of that trend. However, individuals are not faced with a similar trend, and executives of companies are still treated with leniency. That may change, and that wouldn’t necessarily apply to intermediaries, particularly if they are foreign.

What can we expect from French enforcement in the near future?

France’s Sapin II anti-corruption law, effective 11 June 2017, has reshaped the legal landscape for companies. Prosecutors are seeking deferred prosecution agreements, creating a new dynamic. The institutionalisation of this process is still in its infancy, but we are seeing large settlements. And there will be more to come. It remains to be seen if individuals will be concerned by that more effective enforcement. When it comes to specific business crimes, tax fraud will be high on the enforcement authorities’ agenda. The Airbus case has also shown that French prosecutors were ready to engage with their counterparts in the UK and the US, and we should see more of this in the future, although French prosecutors would want to safeguard their jurisdiction on cases with a strong French nexus.

What is the future of the inquisitorial system in business crime cases? 

French prosecutors are trying to avoid going to investigating judges as much as possible when it comes to business crimes. And they will keep on doing so. However, there comes a stage when they need them – when it comes to relying on coercive measures and a company is not ready to cooperate. Similarly, when it comes to individuals, particularly those located abroad, they will still need the coercive powers of investigating judges. Again, with legislation after legislation, we are seeing more and more powers granted to prosecutors that should be with the authorisation of a judge, and this might eventually mean that in the middle term, investigating judges would be excluded.

Looking back over your career, what has been your proudest achievement? 

Two are on a par. The first is starting my own firm, Bonifassi Avocats, in 2017. The second is co-founding the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, in 2018. It was a long-term professional dream of mine to pursue, along with respected colleagues, an understanding of economic crimes based on rigorous academic and practical principles. 

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

Global Leader

Asset Recovery 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is a star of the French white-collar crime market with over 30 years of experience representing individuals and corporations in complex litigation proceedings.

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi’s criminal court experience for nearly three decades has led him to develop investigative strategies and methods for finding and recovering misappropriated or hidden assets throughout multiple jurisdictions. With his knowledge of foreign laws and resourcefulness working abroad, he devises a bespoke approach to asset recovery efforts.

He is the “foremost asset recovery lawyer in the country,” according to WWL, and clients and colleagues say he possesses “deep expertise in defending clients against criminal claims as well as on award enforcements.”

WWL also placed his business crime defence, investigations and commercial litigation practices on its “most highly regarded” list for France. He also earned “triple crown” recognition as a Global Elite Thought Leader for 2019 in the areas of business crime defence, asset recovery and investigations – the only lawyer listed for three practice areas. Chambers Europe 2018 noted that his colleagues describe him as a “brilliant analyst” in white-collar crime as well.

His interest and experience in financial crime litigation led Bonifassi to co-found the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, a collaboration of experienced public and private-litigation professionals and distinguished academics working with the Basel Institute on Governance to expand worldwide access to solutions in economic crime cases. 

Bonifassi Avocats handles international litigation involving complex business crimes, with a focus on fraud, economic sanctions, corruption and asset recovery.

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is a “vastly experienced, extremely talented and charismatic lawyer”. He regularly defends corporates and individuals in fraud and corruption litigation.

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi’s criminal court experience for nearly three decades has led him to develop investigative strategies and methods for finding and recovering misappropriated or hidden assets throughout multiple jurisdictions. With his knowledge of foreign laws and resourcefulness working abroad, he devises a bespoke approach to asset recovery efforts.

He is the “foremost asset recovery lawyer in the country,” according to WWL, and clients and colleagues say he possesses “deep expertise in defending clients against criminal claims as well as on award enforcements.”

WWL also placed his business crime defence, investigations and commercial litigation practices on its “most highly regarded” list for France. He also earned “triple crown” recognition as a Global Elite Thought Leader for 2019 in the areas of business crime defence, asset recovery and investigations – the only lawyer listed for three practice areas. Chambers Europe 2018 noted that his colleagues describe him as a “brilliant analyst” in white-collar crime as well.

His interest and experience in financial crime litigation led Bonifassi to co-found the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, a collaboration of experienced public and private-litigation professionals and distinguished academics working with the Basel Institute on Governance to expand worldwide access to solutions in economic crime cases. 

Bonifassi Avocats handles international litigation involving complex business crimes, with a focus on fraud, economic sanctions, corruption and asset recovery.

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Stephane Bonifassi wins high praise from sources who note he is "certainly among the very best business crime lawyers in France".

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi’s criminal court experience for nearly three decades has led him to develop investigative strategies and methods for finding and recovering misappropriated or hidden assets throughout multiple jurisdictions. With his knowledge of foreign laws and resourcefulness working abroad, he devises a bespoke approach to asset recovery efforts.

He is the “foremost asset recovery lawyer in the country,” according to WWL, and clients and colleagues say he possesses “deep expertise in defending clients against criminal claims as well as on award enforcements.”

WWL also placed his business crime defence, investigations and commercial litigation practices on its “most highly regarded” list for France. He also earned “triple crown” recognition as a Global Elite Thought Leader for 2019 in the areas of business crime defence, asset recovery and investigations – the only lawyer listed for three practice areas. Chambers Europe 2018 noted that his colleagues describe him as a “brilliant analyst” in white-collar crime as well.

His interest and experience in financial crime litigation led Bonifassi to co-found the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, a collaboration of experienced public and private-litigation professionals and distinguished academics working with the Basel Institute on Governance to expand worldwide access to solutions in economic crime cases. 

Bonifassi Avocats handles international litigation involving complex business crimes, with a focus on fraud, economic sanctions, corruption and asset recovery.

WWL Ranking: Recommended
WWL Ranking: Recommended

National Leader

WWL Ranking: Recommended
WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is a top-notch litigator who “stands out for his white-collar crime work” on both domestic and international levels.

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi's extensive criminal court experience over nearly 30 years, along with his knowledge of foreign laws and resourcefulness working abroad, have earned him recognition in 2019 as France’s number-one “Thought Leader” for business crime defence. He also holds the number-one spot in France for asset recovery.

Bonifassi specialises in cases involving business crime and fraud, corruption, asset recovery, forfeiture and confiscation, economic sanctions, transnational enforcement of judgments and internal investigations. WWL describes him as “a major player” in the investigations space, with his peers noting his “world-class work handling” of financial and corporate crime matters. Moreover, his work in commercial litigation is recognised, earning international acclaim for his “first-rate” advocacy work.

He co-founded the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, a collaboration of experienced public and private litigation professionals and distinguished academics working with the Basel Institute on Governance to expand worldwide access to solutions in economic crime cases.

His written contributions are widely recognised and some have earned him Plume d’Or awards from Les Plumes De L’Économie & Du Droit. Two articles, written for Le Monde, focus on international corruption and on the benefits of deferred prosecution agreements to France’s legal system. He continues to contribute thoughtful commentary about ways to mitigate the risks surrounding financial crime.

Bonifassi has served as president of the criminal law commission of the International Association of Lawyers (UIA) and as a co-chair of the business crime committee of the International Bar Association.

Bonifassi Avocats handles international litigation involving complex business crimes, with a focus on fraud, corruption and asset recovery.

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