U.S. federal regulators are reportedly delving into the hiring practices of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) in China, trying to determine whether the money center bank hired the children of Chinese officials as a way to secure business contracts.
Hiring the children of the rich and powerful -- regardless of their country of origin -- isn’t necessarily illegal. But companies may be breaking the law if anti-bribery watchdogs can prove the hiring was made in exchange for business opportunities.
The New York Times’ DealBook, citing a confidential U.S. government document, reported on Saturday that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into at least two specific cases.
One case centers on Tang Xiaoning, the son of Tang Shuangning, once the vice chairman of China’s banking regulator and now the chairman of the China Everbright Group, a state-controlled financial enterprise. Tang Xiaoning is believed to have worked at JPMorgan from around 2010 to last December. “Before hiring Mr. Tang, JPMorgan appeared to do little if any business with China Everbright, based on a review of securities filings and news reports,” DealBook wrote. “Since then, though, China Everbright has emerged as one of its prized Asian clients.”
The other case centers on Zhang Xixi, the daughter of Zhang Shuguang, formerly the deputy chief engineer of China’s railway ministry. Zhang Shuguang was detained in February 2011 in the midst of a corruption investigation and accused of funneling about $2.8 billion into his offshore bank accounts, as reported by the Telegraph in the U.K. But, around 2007, when Zhang Shuguang’s star was still high, JPMorgan hired the railway official’s daughter. Soon afterward, records seem to indicate that the China Railway Group, a construction company, hired JPMorgan to help take it public. And, around 2011, JPMorgan was called on to assist in a Chinese high-speed rail operator’s public offering, according to DealBook.
JPMorgan mentioned in its quarterly SEC filing this month that the agency’s Division of Enforcement was seeking information on the bank’s “employment of certain former employees in Hong Kong and its business relationships with certain clients.”
With respect to Tang, the SEC is seeking his salary data, employment files and communications he has had with the bank since he left last year, along with information on all people involved in his hiring and all contracts and agreements between JPMorgan and China Everbright. The agency is seeking similar information in the case of Zhang, including all contracts and agreements between the bank and China’s railway ministry.
A JPMorgan representative said in an emailed statement on Sunday that the bank was fully cooperating with investigators. The SEC declined to comment.
JPMorgan has found itself in financial regulators’ sights more and more in recent years. This month, the SEC and federal prosecutors brought criminal charges against two former traders connected to a multibillion-dollar trading loss attributed to the so-called London Whale. Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout are accused of trying to mask the losses that stemmed from bad bets placed on the derivatives market.
In March, the New York Times noted that JPMorgan was under investigation by at least eight federal agencies, federal prosecutors, and the New York branch of the FBI. The bank has been scrutinized for allegedly failing to communicate to authorities its suspicions about convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard L. Madoff. The bank has also been chastised for misstating how it harmed more than 5,000 homeowners undergoing foreclosure procedures.