The Securities and Exchange Commission and New York state prosecutors are investigating whether investment firms made improper payments of millions of dollars to intermediaries to gain business from the state's pension fund, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

In the report on its website, The New York Times said two people with direct knowledge of the case said the inquiry involves a number of investment companies, including Carlyle Group , one of the world's largest private equity firms. It said Carlyle manages $1.5 billion of the state's pension assets.

The New York Times quoted Carlyle spokesman Christopher Ullman as saying: Carlyle has fully cooperated with the New York attorney general's investigation. We understand this is an industrywide investigation and that we are not the focus of the investigation.

The New York Times said it was told by sources the investigators were looking into several firms for potential civil charges. SEC officials and the attorney general's office declined to comment, the New York Times said.

It said the inquiry was looking into the practice of paying so-called placement agents to gain business managing the pension funds run by states for public employees.

Last month, Henry Morris, the former New York state comptroller's top fund-raiser, and David Loglisci, the state's pension investment chief, were charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from money manager firms. At the time, state attorney general Andrew Cuomo and SEC chairman Mary Shapiro said the probes were continuing.

(Editing by Anshuman Daga)