U.S. Expanding Corporate Foreign Bribery Probes to Include Hiring

Apr 20, 2014 | Foreign Bribery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. government agencies that have been probing banks’ hiring of children of powerful Chinese officials are expanding existing investigations in other industries across Asia to include hiring practices, four people familiar with the matter said.

The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been asking global companies in a range of industries including oil and gas, telecommunications, and consumer products for information about their hiring practices to determine if they could amount to bribery, these people said.

On Wednesday, mobile chipmaker Qualcomm Inc said it could face civil action from U.S. authorities over alleged bribery of officials associated with state-owned companies in China. It also said it found instances in which “special hiring consideration” was given to people associated with state-owned companies or agencies in China.

Qualcomm declined to comment on Friday. The Justice Department and SEC declined to comment on whether they have expanded their probes.

Some of the new inquiries have zeroed in on hires in China, South Korea and southeast Asia, including Singapore, two of the people familiar with the probes said.

It was not clear how many companies were involved in the expanded probes and the people, who declined to be named because details of the investigations are not public, did not name specific firms.

Hiring issues have become a focus in bribery probes as a matter of course, sources said. That reflects a change in the wake of the investigation into whether JPMorgan hired children of China’s state-owned company executives with the express purpose of winning underwriting and other business, they added.

If employees were hired at the direction of an official at a state-run company who was in a position to grant a U.S.-linked company business, the American firm could run afoul of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a 1970s law that bars bribes to officials of foreign governments, for instance.

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