French gambling arrests may contravene EU free trade laws

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When the French gambling monopolies initiated warrants of arrest against online gambling executives Petter Nylander of Unibet and Didier Dewyn of Mr. Bookmaker back in 2007 they triggered serious consequences that could come back to bite them .... hard.

This week the case took a positive turn for online gambling when the Internet companies were successful in obtaining access to the European Union's key Reasoned Opinion on the incompatibility of French law supporting state gambling monopolies with the European Union requirements for free and open trade between member states.

It's been a tough and strongly opposed fight leading to the Court of Appeal of Versailles ordering access to the Reasoned Opinion and the hearing of the Secretary General for European Affairs, Gilles Briatta.

Access to the Reasoned Opinion, previously refused by the instructing judge, had been requested by the defendant Internet companies for months as a key piece of evidence. This confidential document lists all the violations of EU law that the European Commission holds against the French gambling legislation, in particular with regard to the Française de Jeux and PMUs monopolies on online sports and horse betting.

The ruling dates back to criminal proceedings in 2007 initiated by the French against Petter Nylander, CEO of the online gaming company Unibet, listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange and holding licences in Italy, Malta and the UK, and Didier Dewyn, former CEO of Mr Bookmaker.

By deferring its judgement and allowing the litigants to have access to the Reasoned Opinion addressed by the European Commission to France on June 27, 2007, and seeking to hear for the first time in this case a high civil servant, Gilles Briatta, the Court of Appeal reaffirmed the doubts surrounding the compatibility of the French gaming legislation with European Law, says the European Gambling and Betting Association in commenting on the ruling. The Association counts most of Europe's major online gambling companies among its members.

EGBA welcomed the decisions as an important development in the cases against Nylander, Dewyn and other European CEOs, who have been subject to arrests - including the use of a European Arrest Warrant executed by the Dutch in detaining Nylander at the time - and indictments.

Sigrid Ligné, Secretary-General of EGBA, said: “These decisions raise once more the fundamental question of the legal base of these criminal proceedings. The infringements the European Commission listed in its Reasoned Opinion against the French Law shall also allow it to evaluate the compliance of the forthcoming draft bill with European law.”

The decisions follow the judgement of the Court of Appeal of Versailles dated January 18, 2008 in the proceedings engaged against Didier Dewyn, which requested additional information regarding the compliance of the French Law with EU Law and in particular access to the Reasoned Opinion addressed by the European Commission to France.

EGBA recalls that doubts regarding the French legislation’s compliance with European law have not only been voiced by the European Commission, but have also been confirmed by the Court of Cassation on July 10, 2007; by the State Council on May 9, 2008 and finally by the French Government itself in the context of the more recently announced reform of the gambling law.

To maintain an indictment based on the alleged infringement of such legislation would imply accepting the concept of preventive indictment, which is impossible under French law.

The EGBA recalls that these decisions come at a time when the European Commission has been waiting for 21 months for a new French bill which is expected to put an end to the multiple infringements of EU law and in particular to the “criminal sanctions [that] have been threatened or imposed on the chief executives of sport betting companies licensed in other Member States”. If the draft bill is not formally notified to the European Commission services in the shortest timeframe possible, the European Commission may move to the contentious stage of the infringement proceedings and refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.

Source: InfoPowa News