A bipartisan panel investigating the financial crisis has referred cases of potential wrongdoing by financial industry officials to the Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The 2009 law creating the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission instructs the congressionally appointed panel to refer anyone who may have violated the law to the Justice Department and state attorneys general.

The Huffington Post first reported the referrals on Monday night and did not identify the people implicated or their institutions.

The online publication cited two unnamed sources who characterized the panel's decision to make referrals to prosecutors as a significant escalation in the government's response to the financial crisis. Civil charges are more likely than criminal prosecutions, the publication reported.

Commission spokesman Tucker Warren, reached late on Monday night, declined to comment on the report.

The person familiar with the matter interviewed by Reuters downplayed the referrals saying they related to information already publicly known such as accusations of executives not being forthcoming on earnings calls and the Goldman Sachs Abacus deal.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had accused Goldman of creating and marketing the Abacus deal, which included products linked to subprime mortgage bonds, without telling investors that hedge fund Paulson & Co helped picked the bonds and was planning to bet against the transaction.

In July Goldman agreed to pay $550 million to resolve the SEC charges.

The commission was split along partisan lines when voting to make the referrals, the source told Reuters, with the six Democrats voting in favor and the four Republicans voting against. The last votes took place at least a couple of months ago, the source added.

The FCIC was created by Congress in 2009 to research and report on the origins of the 2007-2009 crisis that rocked world financial markets and its final report will be released on Thursday.

Partisan divisions have been evident throughout the committee's existence.

The main report to be released Thursday is expected to be endorsed by only the six Democratic members of the 10-member panel, with three Republican members releasing a separate minority report. A fourth Republican plans to unveil a report of his own.

The impact of the commission's work on policy-making is expected to be limited, analysts said, since a major reform package for Wall Street and the banking industry was approved last year and is being implemented already by regulators.

(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh and Dave Clarke, editing by Dave Zimmerman)