JP Morgan Chase agreed to pay $264m on Wednesday to settle charges that it employed well-connected Chinese “princelings” in order to win business in the Asia-Pacific region.
The settlement with US regulators comes after a three-year investigation into a vast foreign bribery scheme that violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). It could be the first of several such deals with Wall Street banks.
“JP Morgan engaged in a systematic bribery scheme by hiring children of government officials and other favoured referrals who were typically unqualified for the positions on their own merit,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) enforcement division.
“JP Morgan employees knew the firm was potentially violating the FCPA yet persisted with the improper hiring program because the business rewards and new deals were deemed too lucrative.”
The Department of Justice called the scheme “bribery by any other name” and said it had recently created three dedicated international corruption squads “to combat this type of quid pro quo, and we’ll use all resources at our disposal to uncover and put an end to these crimes”.
Starting in 2006 senior Hong Kong-based JP Morgan bankers set up and used a “client referral programme”, also referred to as the “sons and daughters programme”, to hire candidates referred by clients and government officials.
The bank admitted that some candidates hired under the scheme did little more than proof reading but were paid the same amount as entry-level investment bankers. In one case bankers in New York told their Hong Kong peers that one Chinese hire was unqualified to be an investment banker. But a senior Chinese official had said that his hiring would help JP Morgan secure a lucrative role in an upcoming initial public offering (IPO) of a state-owned company. A position was created for the candidate in New York, and JP Morgan thereafter obtained a leading role in the IPO.