THE AMERICAN TRAP
Frédéric Pierucci with Mathieu Aron
(JC Lattès, 400 pages, 2019)
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On a professional trip to New York in April 2013, I was arrested and accused of corruption involving the multinational company that employed me. I never received a cent through this transaction but the American authorities locked me up for 14 months in a maximum security prison. I was a hostage and used as blackmail to force my company to pay the largest fine ever imposed by the United States. The consequences were a complete dismembering of Alstom, a company of highly strategic activities and a flagship of French industry. Alstom was forced to sell its energy branch (in charge of the maintenance of our nuclear power plants) to an American company: General Electric!
—from The American Trap
On April 14, 2013, federal agents board the plane and arrest Frédéric Pierucci, without explanation, just as he lands at JFK. He at first thinks it’s just a misunderstanding, but after checking his identity, they bring him to the FBI office in Manhattan. He is the one they meant to arrest! Pierucci soon realizes his detainment can only be related to his position in Alstom, a French power and transport group. And he is right: Federal prosecutors immediately interrogate him, demanding answers concerning an investigation into Alstom’s use of corruption in the Tarahan power project in Indonesia ten years prior. Alstom set in place a system to “prevent” bribery, wherein twelve individuals must sign to approve hiring a new consultant. These consultants, despite the antibribery system, bribed Indonesian officials to secure a contract for the power project. Though Pierucci held an executive position at Alstom, he explains that he had no authority to approve of and commit the crimes federal officials charge him with.
Pierucci’s nightmare is just beginning. For five years, the Department of Justice accuses and forces him to plead guilty to the worst economic crimes. He serves time in Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island, then in Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Pennsylvania. Alstom fires him during his incarceration for failure to show up at work. His lawyers offer him terrible legal advice. He is abandoned and let down by his own company, his legal counsel, and even the French government.
In order to stay sane, he begins writing this book in Wyatt, describing his persecution and the conditions of his incarceration. He follows the investigation through the rare press clippings sent to him by his wife and friends, tracing connections between his case and the sudden sale of Alstom to General Electric. Soon Pierucci realizes he is the DOJ’s scapegoat, a tool they use to pressure Alstom’s CEO into selling the company to General Electric.
The American Trap reads as a thriller. Frédéric Pierucci dissects every step of the horrendous process he experienced, explaining the complicated U.S. judicial system in such a clear way that readers will understand its intricacies. His concise and thorough critique of the system shows how capitalism can grind all for profit.
Frédéric Pierucci worked for Alstom for twenty-one years. He came back to France a free man in September 2018, after spending two years in jail. In between the procedures, he met Mathieu Aron, a journalist and former associate director of the Nouvel Observateur and former managing editor at France Inter. Aron, who had followed his story since the beginning, co-wrote the book.