Friday, April 16, 2004

Executive Life Redux

The front page of The Wall Street Journal print edition has a lengthy story on the Crédit Lyonnais debacle. Now that the criminal trial is over, the civil trial is set to begin. The WSJ quotes White & Case partner George Terwilliger III (who is representing the French government), who calls the criminal case “a shadow box” and says, “It’s all about the civil case.” The criminal trial settlement came to $770 million. In comparison, in the civil trial, California’s insurance regulator is asking for $5 billion from France, Crédit Lyonnais, and the French billionaire, François Pinault. Writes the WSJ:

“The twisted tale has highlighted the very different legal cultures of the U.S., which strives to keep the courts free of political interference, and France, whose leaders often intervene in sensitive cases despite a nominal separation of powers. Paris repeatedly tried to get the [criminal] case solved at a political rather than a judicial level, and insisted that any settlement involve Mr. Pinault, a close friend of French President Jacques Chirac…France also launched a campaign to get the case solved politically. Justice Minister Dominique Perben paid a visit to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Mr. Mer, the finance minister, who has since left office, buttonholed U.S Treasury Secretary John Snow three times on the subject, including once at a secret meeting at a Paris hotel, according to U.S. and French officials. Each time, word came back that the matter was in the hands of Ms. Yang, the U.S. attorney—and Washington wouldn’t interfere.”

Although the French government has alleged that Washington’s refusal to settle the matter politically is due to Bush’s alleged “anti-French” mentality, it seems to me that the WSJ article correctly highlights that Bush’s refusal to step in on behalf of the French is due more to the nature of the U.S. justice system than to the U.S. President’s vagaries.

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