SEC expands probe into overseas hiring by U.S. banks

The SEC is broadening a probe into the overseas hiring practices of U.S. banks, according to a person familiar with the matter.

At issue: Did the banks give jobs to friends and family of government officials, and in doing so, violate laws prohibiting bribery of foreign officials?

JPMorgan Chase has already disclosed that it is the subject of an investigation by the SEC and U.S. Justice Department related to its hiring in Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific region.

The person familiar with the expanded probe said the SEC has sent out letters to multiple institutions asking for information about their hiring practices. The person said the Justice Department has yet to contact other banks.

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The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Morgan Stanley (MS) and Citigroup (C) were among the banks that have been contacted by the SEC. Neither bank would comment, nor would the SEC.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act bars U.S. companies from using bribes to conduct businesses overseas.

Numerous companies have disclosed investigations into allegations of such practices, including Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and French food maker Danone (DANOY).

Last year drugmakers Eli Lilly (LLY) and Pfizer (PFE) each agreed to pay the SEC tens of millions of dollars because of bribes paid in overseas markets.

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