Asset tracing in France is a professional, complex and highly sought after skill. Ambiguity within foreign jurisdictions, technology, and globalisation have facilitated the movement of assets worldwide, and heightened the need to discover them swiftly.

This ease of movement presents a challenge for clients looking to locate and recover assets overseas. If assets are moved to a different country, there is much to do in terms of navigating the foreign legal and legislative landscape, accessing records and confidential documents.

In this insight, we examine asset tracing in France, the challenges that it presents, and how we at Matrix Intelligence use our extensive expertise and global reach to achieve results for our clients.

The French legal landscape

France does not follow a common law system, but rather a civil one. It is important to outline this to better understand what is legally possible when it comes to asset tracing and subsequent recovery.

A civil law jurisdiction relies on written statutes and legal codes which are constantly updated, these set out legal procedures and what can and cannot be brought in front of a court. This differs from the common law system in the UK, for example, which relies on precedence and custom, evolving over time.

Within a civil system, there is no duty for disclosure or discovery mechanism before the courts, unlike in common law which requires full pre-litigation transparency. This means that the opposing parties decide which documents to submit into evidence.

Whilst a judge can intervene, it means that the burden of proving allegations of hidden assets, for example, property or real estate purchased in France, lies with the victim.

This can be very difficult when such assets are often in the names of third parties or offshore companies and alsmot completely reliant on personal disclosure. Take for example the case of the former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who purchased a $22m French estate under the name of an offshore company, thus concealing his ownership.

Governance in France

As with the legal landscape, it is important to understand the French form of governance to appreciate the impact it has on asset tracing, its co-ordination, and the conduct of an investigation in country.

France has a decentralised and complex system of governance across its 18 regions (13 in metropolitan France and 5 elsewhere), designed in theory to give a greater balance of power across the nation:

  • Divided into 96 mainland administrative departments and 5 overseas.
  • Created in 1790, each department (department) is allocated a capital, usually the largest city in the area but not always. It is the largest unit of local government and is governed by an elected general council with President, responsible for local services, law and budget.
  • Most departments in continental France are two and a half times the size of an English county with over 500,000 residents. Paris for example currently has 2 deparments (reduced from 8) and sits in the Île-de-France region.
  • These departments which are allocated a two-digit official geographical code, are then sub-divided into arrondissements (districts) of which there are 342.
  • They are then divided into cantons or communes (municipalities), governed by municipal councils. There are approx 34,836.
  • Paris, Marseille and Lyon are further divided into municipal arrondissements, 20, 16 and 9 respectively.
  • St Tropez, a known haven of wealth and power and historically a location for hidden assets such as property, is in the department of Var and the region of Provence-Alpes Cote de Azur, of which there are 153 municipalities.

Challenges of Asset Tracing in France

The main challenge is that which relates to evidence disclosure and discovery around civil law and cross-border investigations. As discussed there is no obligation for transparency in France .

Furthermore, the French Blocking Statute, prohibits specific evidence that French companies or nationals may hold, from being disclosed in foreign legal proceedings. These include certain categories of documents (economic, technical, financial, commercial and industrial) and often it is only once a French court order has been obtained that access is granted.

France has also always taken a strong position in terms of data protection and privacy laws, enacting one of the first in 1978, the Data Protection and Liberties Act. That same year, it created the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertes (CNIL), the French data protection agency.

A further challenge comes from the decentralised system, as asset tracing would most likely require investigate enquiries in multiple departments, as there is no connectivity between each, which this can have a huge impact both on the time and cost of the work involved.

All of which combined presents complex challenges in cross-border discovery and asset tracing investigations in France. It is imperative therefore to take the utmost care to ensure that any evidence captured for use in a foreign asset tracing case, goes through the correct consultation, legal and administrative channels.

It should be noted that there are treaties, including Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) and the Hague Evidence Convention which do make certain foreign disclosures, including personal data, documents and other pertinent information, possible in criminal and civil cases.

All investigations, whether fraud or insolvency related, require a specialist asset tracing agency which understands how to conduct a focussed investigation, navigate complexities and maximise use of the client’s budget to achieve results.

At Matrix Intelligence, we are able to utilise our extensive network of investigative professionals and their expertise within the French jurisdiction to help achieve this.

Asset Tracing tools in France

In recent years, there has been greater emphasis and priority placed globally on corruption, asset tracing and recovery, thanks in part to organisations such as the Global Forum for Asset Recovery and the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative.

This has resulted in France strengthening the efficiency of its domestic capacity, as well as its international co-operation and collaboration in the field.

The two primary and important asset recovery bodies in the country from an international mutual legal assistance point of view are:

  • Plateforme d’identification des avoirs criminels (PIAC) – a law enforcement unit dedicated to criminal asset identification.
  • L’Agence de gestion et de recouvrement des avoirs saisis et confisqués (AGRASC) – an agency for the management and recovery of seized and confiscated assets.

Using our expertise and sources we are able to access other information platforms, such as:

  • Registre du Commerce ET des Societes (RCS) – information related to registered businesses including shareholder details and financial information.
  • FICOBA – a centralised bank register, which allows for swift access to financial information.
  • Service de Publicité Foncière (land registry) – holds documentary evidence outlining the ownership of land for real estate properties.

Apart from in-country sources, we use additional deep web resources and comprehensive international tracing proprietary databases to navigate through data in order to identify the subject’s footprint.

The ability to trace and recover assets globally is based on the quality of information, knowledge and expertise within the particular jurisdiction. At Matrix intelligence we have considerable experience of asset tracing in France, throughout the European Union and beyond.

For more information on our asset tracing capabilities, contact us at: or online at