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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Stéphane Bonifassi

Stéphane Bonifassi

Bonifassi Avocats34 boulevard HaussmannParisFrance75009
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Thought Leader

Questions & Answers

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. 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.

What attracted you to a legal career?

Debating and arguing the law is a good way to progress an idea and to learn. These debates, central to trials, help mould, grow and change perceptions. In litigation especially, lawyers are actors in the debate and players in a strategy game. The one who convinces the judge, through his or her debate, to accept an interpretation of the law is the winner. And, that interpretation has an impact on the law that is broader than the facts being tried in the case.

What do you enjoy most in your role?

In litigation, I enjoy assessing where a case stands, sketching out a strategy and planning how I will move the case to the most favourable position. Adapting the strategy along the way is imperative so that during the hearing – the culmination of all the hard work that goes into a case – I can focus on the argument and persuade the court to understand my client’s position. In asset recovery cases, I enjoy the chase. We’re pursuing clever people who have good lawyers, and we, for justice and restitution, must develop a strategy to defeat them with all the tools we have at our disposal. Similarly, in defending clients in white-collar cases, strategy is paramount. We must rely on the principles of the rule of law and hold tight to the presumption of innocence. Whether in pursuit or being pursued, a strong strategy prevails.

What insight have you gained from your role as president of the criminal law commission at the International Association of Lawyers?

In this role, and in my role as co-chair of the business crime committee of the International Bar Association, I’ve learned to appreciate and understand other legal systems. This insight, especially in asset recovery and business crime defence, gives me the capacity to anticipate others’ strategies and tactics, and know how to navigate challenges. Being part of international associations also gives me the opportunity to explain the French system to others.

What was the most challenging aspect of founding your own firm?

As with any business, when I opened Bonifassi Avocats in 2017, we had to find people who shared my passion for and skill set to take on complex cases, while providing the best service and results for our clients. In asset recovery and business crime defence, proving that a firm our size is worthy to take on the types of cases we do can be an ongoing challenge.

How has the market changed in France since you started practising?

Settlements of criminal cases didn’t exist when I first started practising in France. With this shift, compliance programmes and internal investigations emerged in the area of business crime defence. Where “big law” has the capacity to implement compliance programmes and conduct internal investigations, skilled litigators are still needed to help large law firms anticipate where a prosecutor may go in a case and to argue their clients’ cases in court. In asset recovery cases, where settlements don’t come easily, the need to go in front of a judge remains strong. So, for firms like mine that are combining asset recovery with white-collar crime – a rising trend in the US and UK that hasn’t yet taken hold in France – litigators can use and sharpen their litigation skills and differentiate themselves.

How are French enforcement authorities adapting their prosecutorial strategies, and why?

Following the adoption of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in the late 1990s, international corruption was policed solely by the USA. France didn’t like its companies being severely and repeatedly penalised by the USA, but also resisted the idea of settlements. With a backlog of cases clogging the French courts, legislators imported the practice of prosecution agreements from the USA and enacted Sapin II, allowing for settlements. While we’re seeing some companies settle, French enforcement authorities are still weak. Therefore, the US Department of Justice continues to act as the enforcement arm of these settlements.

How has the increase in third-party funding impacted your practice?

Third-party funding has accompanied the emergence of the asset recovery practice, and it has been crucial. Cases that couldn’t be brought before a judge because victims didn’t have the resources are now moving forward. Furthermore, there’s a link between arbitration and third-party funding. Arbitral awards that previously wouldn’t have been enforced now have the backing of third-party funding to obtain redress against bad-faith debtors adept at hiding their assets.

You have had an illustrious career to date. What else would you like to achieve that you have not already?

I’ve got some of the best cases, but I’m always striving for more challenges. It’s the thrill of the chase, building a strategy and defeating the strength of the creative criminal, clever prosecutor or astute law enforcement agency and finding a solution for my clients. It’s a chess game and the one who stays ahead of the rest wins.

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

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi boasts “an amazing reputation” in the international market for his top-tier white-collar crime practice. He is commended for his adept handling of complex economic crime, investigations and corruption matters.

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 and has been ranked by Chambers Europe 2018 in the area of white-collar crime.

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.

Outside the courtroom, Bonifassi 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.

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: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi boasts “an amazing reputation” in the international market for his top-tier white-collar crime practice. He is commended for his adept handling of complex economic crime, investigations and corruption matters.

Biography

Recognised by WWL as the number-one “Thought Leader” in France in business crime defence, Stéphane Bonifassi focuses his litigation experience in business crime and fraud, corruption, asset recovery, forfeiture and confiscation cases, and regularly represents individuals faced with extradition or mutual-assistance requests.

His nearly 30 years of criminal court experience directs his approach in the civil and criminal nature of cases. His understanding of foreign laws and ability to tap into resources abroad have also earned him acclaim by Chambers Europe 2018 in the white-collar crime area. Additionally, he has been recognised by WWL as the number-one lawyer in France for asset recovery.

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

His written contributions have received Plume D’Or awards from Les Plumes De L’Économie & Du Droit. Two articles, written for Le Monde, focused on international corruption and on benefits of deferred prosecution agreements to France’s legal system. He remains a contributor of analysis on mitigating risks surrounding financial crime.

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

Bonifassi Avocats specialises in 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 2018

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Stéphane Bonifassi receives high praise from sources around the world for his wealth of experience on asset recovery matters.

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.

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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