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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 “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 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 DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT RUNNING YOUR OWN FIRM?

I am free to choose the cases that I want to take. I often choose complex cases that push me and our team to sharpen our analytical and creative skills.  

WHAT QUALITIES MAKE FOR A SUCCESSFUL LITIGATOR?

Tenacity – it’s a relentless fight, and you can’t give up. Ingenuity – you can’t just look at the narrow confines of the case. You must look at the broader issues, which allows for creativity in how you approach the case. Strategic thinking – in complex situations, you need to know where you want to go and how to get there. Critical thinking to solve the puzzle is imperative. Persuasiveness – if you have the above traits, without the talent to persuade a judge to accept your arguments, you’ve lost. 

YOU PRACTISE ON BOTH THE DEFENCE AND ENFORCEMENT SIDES. TO WHAT EXTENT DOES YOUR APPROACH DIFFER IN EACH SITUATION?

On both sides, you need to possess the qualities of a successful litigator – tenacity, ingenuity, strategic thinking and persuasiveness, but the mindset is different. When you’re the claimant, the world is yours. You lay the foundations, so your ingenuity comes into play early, and the first step in the case is critical. When you defend, it’s somewhat easier because your path is laid out by the prosecutors. But you must still exercise ingenuity, as you respond to claims by prosecutors who have tremendous resources. You must analytically and creatively respond to those claims and persuade the court on behalf of your client.

HOW HAS THE INCREASING ROLE OF THIRD-PARTY FUNDERS IMPACTED THE NATURE OF ASSET RECOVERY PROCEEDINGS? 

Third-party funding levels the playing field for victims who have been deprived of their assets. Historically, these cases couldn’t be brought before a judge because the victims didn’t have the resources. Now, these cases are moving forward. Also, there’s a similar link between third-party funding and arbitration. Arbitral awards that weren’t enforced in the past are now backed by third-party funding, allowing redress in arbitration as well.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES CURRENTLY FACING LAWYERS PRACTISING IN THE ASSET RECOVERY SPACE?

Civil law countries don’t give the tools that common law countries give. Ingenuity in the practice helps us overcome this hurdle. Also, asset recovery isn’t seen everywhere as a practice area, although Who’s Who Legal is changing that. This means that victims or claimants go to lawyers who have limited expertise in this area and horror stories abound. It’s important that asset recovery is recognised as a practice area, so those of us with experience and expertise in asset-recovery law can help displace those horror stories with victories.

HOW IS THE PRACTICE AND GROWTH OF INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS CURRENTLY EVOLVING IN FRANCE?

Internal investigations in France are still driven by the international environment. Currently demands for such investigations come from the UK, the US and Germany. But, because of the adoption of deferred prosecution agreements under Sapin Law II, we could see that change and more internal investigations will occur purely in France without being requested by or tied to a UK, US or German element.

WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE RECEIVED?

You receive wise remarks throughout your career, and you still receive them after 28 years of experience! Some are good, some are not or are not appropriate for you. Some were good at a certain time and are not anymore. The important thing is to hear what your peers are saying about the practice, watch them on the battlefield, and from there craft your own approach.

WHAT IS THE SECRET OF YOUR SUCCESS?

The secret of my success is to consistently pursue even more success. To help, I rely on colleagues around the world who challenge me to think differently. That’s one reason I co-founded the International Academy of Financial Crime Litigators, which brings skilled and like-minded individuals together to debate and challenge traditional thinking to drive the future of the practice.

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

Global Leader

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

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is hailed as “the best around” for his extensive know-how in complex white-collar crime cases with nearly three decades of experience. 

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi's extensive criminal court experience over nearly 30 years, along with his knowledge of foreign laws and resourcefulness working abroad, has earned him recognition in 2018 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 business crime and fraud, corruption, asset recovery, forfeiture and confiscation cases, 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.

In 2018, 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 regularly recognised and some have earned him Plume d’Or awards from Les Plumes De L’Économie & Du Droit. Two articles, written for Le Monde, focused on international corruption and on the benefits of deferred prosecution agreements to France’s legal system. He continues to contribute thoughtful commentary 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.

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is hailed as “the best” for his extensive know-how in complex white-collar crime cases, with nearly three decades of experience.

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi's extensive criminal court experience over nearly 30 years, along with his knowledge of foreign laws and resourcefulness working abroad, has earned him recognition in 2018 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 business crime and fraud, corruption, asset recovery, forfeiture and confiscation cases, 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.

In 2018, 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 regularly recognised and some have earned him Plume d’Or awards from Les Plumes De L’Économie & Du Droit. Two articles, written for Le Monde, focused on international corruption and on the benefits of deferred prosecution agreements to France’s legal system. He continues to contribute thoughtful commentary 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.

Investigations

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is a dedicated white-collar crime and investigations lawyer who remains a pre-eminent name in the French market for his skilful handling of fraud and corruption matters.

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi is frequently instructed to represent individuals or companies accused of international corruption in multiple jurisdictions. With his vast financial crime experience, he works within the anti-corruption laws of France and those of other countries, including the United States’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Recognised by Who’s Who Legal: Thought Leaders – Global Elite (2019), Bonifassi recently restructured the internal investigation of a French engineering company accused of financial improprieties. He also advised a US firm conducting an FCPA investigation in France and led an internal investigation for a French company following allegations of corruption in connection with a project funded by the World Bank.

Who’s Who Legal: Investigations (2018), singled him out as a “major player” in investigations, noting his handling of financial and corporate crime matters. His commitment to thought leadership sees him active in an internal investigations group for the French National Bar and regularly presenting on key trends at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) headquarters in Paris.

Bonifassi – named the number-one “Thought Leader” in France by Who’s Who Legal 2018: Business Crime Defence and also prominently featured in the litigation guide – is a co-founder of 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, specialises in international litigation involving complex business crimes, with a focus on fraud, economic sanctions, asset recovery, forfeiture and confiscation, as well as transnational enforcement of judgments.

Litigation

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is recognised by international peers as a top litigator in the French market, known for his deep expertise in corporate crime litigation.

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi's extensive criminal court experience over nearly 30 years, along with his knowledge of foreign laws and resourcefulness working abroad, has earned him recognition in 2018 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 business crime and fraud, corruption, asset recovery, forfeiture and confiscation cases, 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 regularly recognised and some have earned him Plume d’Or awards from Les Plumes De L’Économie & Du Droit. Two articles, written for Le Monde, focused on international corruption and on the benefits of deferred prosecution agreements to France’s legal system. He continues to contribute thoughtful commentary 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.

National Leader

WWL Ranking: Recommended
France - Commercial Litigation

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi is one of the leading commercial litigators in the French market. He is commended for his superb expertise across fraud, economic sanctions and corruption charges.

Biography

Stéphane Bonifassi is frequently instructed to represent individuals or companies accused of international corruption in multiple jurisdictions. With his vast financial crime experience, he works within the anti-corruption laws of France and those of other countries, including the United States’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Recognised by Who’s Who Legal: Thought Leaders – Global Elite (2019), Bonifassi recently restructured the internal investigation of a French engineering company accused of financial improprieties. He also advised a US firm conducting an FCPA investigation in France and led an internal investigation for a French company following allegations of corruption in connection with a project funded by the World Bank.

Who’s Who Legal: Investigations (2018), singled him out as a “major player” in investigations, noting his handling of financial and corporate crime matters. His commitment to thought leadership sees him active in an internal investigations group for the French National Bar and regularly presenting on key trends at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) headquarters in Paris.

Bonifassi – named the number-one “Thought Leader” in France by Who’s Who Legal 2018: Business Crime Defence and also prominently featured in the litigation guide – is a co-founder of 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, specialises in international litigation involving complex business crimes, with a focus on fraud, economic sanctions, asset recovery, forfeiture and confiscation, as well as transnational enforcement of judgments.

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