London-based HSBC said in an earnings release last week that it is one of several banks being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for its hiring practices in Asia.
HSBC said in a statement Feb. 22 that the SEC is investigating the “hiring practices of candidates referred by or related to government officials or employees of state-owned enterprises in Asia-Pacific.” Hiring a family member or friend of a government official violates the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act if the intent of the hiring is to obtain or retain business.
HSBC said it has received various requests for information and is cooperating with the SEC’s investigation. “Based on the facts currently known, it is not practicable at this time for HSBC to predict the resolution of this matter, including the timing or any possible impact on HSBC, which could be significant,” the bank said.
HSBC is just one in a growing list of banks to be investigated for its hiring practices in Asia. In March 2014, the SEC sent letters to five banks—Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and UBS—similarly requesting details about their hiring practices, according to The Wall Street Journal.
As Compliance Week previously reported, BNY Mellon last year agreed to pay $14.8 million to the SEC to settle charges that it violated the FCPA for similar hiring practices. The violations took place during 2010 and 2011, when employees of BNY Mellon sought to corruptly influence foreign officials to retain and win business managing and servicing the assets of a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund, according to the SEC. Without admitting or denying the findings, BNY Mellon agreed to pay $8.3 million in disgorgement, $1.5 million in prejudgment interest, and a $5 million penalty.
Similar enforcement actions could be in the pipeline. In a quarterly report filed with the SEC in August 2013, JP Morgan Chase said it had received “a request from the SEC Division of Enforcement seeking information and documents relating to, among other matters, the firm’s employment of certain former employees in Hong Kong and its business relationships with certain clients.”