BNY Mellon to pay US$14.8 million to settle bribery case

BNY Mellon has agreed to pay US$14.8 million to settle federal civil charges of attempting to influence officials of a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund by giving internships to their family members.

It was the Securities and Exchange Commission’s first action against a bank under a U.S. foreign bribery law, and also the first involving internships. The SEC announced the settlement Tuesday with BNY Mellon, which is the seventh-largest bank in the U.S. Bank employees aimed to keep and win business managing the government-controlled fund’s assets by offering the valuable internships to officials’ sons and a nephew, the SEC said.

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The family members getting the highly competitive internships in 2010 and 2011 didn’t meet BNY Mellon’s strict hiring standards, the agency said.

The New York bank neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. It is paying a US$5 million fine, US$8.3 million in restitution plus US$1.5 million in interest. The SEC said it took co-operation and corrective action by BNY Mellon into account when determining the amounts.

The country wasn’t named.

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The SEC reportedly has investigated whether another big U.S. bank, JPMorgan Chase, hired the children of Chinese government officials to help it boost its business in China. JPMorgan has disclosed that the SEC’s enforcement division has sought information about its employment of some people in Hong Kong and its business relationships with some clients.

In the BNY Mellon case, the officials of the sovereign wealth fund requested that the bank provide internships for their family members, and made numerous follow-up requests for details, according to the SEC. The agency said BNY Mellon employees considered the internships important for keeping the fund’s investment business.

Countries with major sovereign wealth funds include China, Korea, Kuwait, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. They control trillions of dollars in assets around the world.

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Banks “face unique corruption risks when seeking to win business in international markets, and we will continue to scrutinize industries that have not been vigilant about complying with” the anti-bribery law, Kara Brockmeyer, who heads the foreign corrupt practices unit in the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a statement.

BNY Mellon said in a statement it was pleased to reach the settlement. “We co-operated with the SEC throughout the process, and had already taken steps to enhance our existing internal controls and procedures with respect to our internship and hiring practices,” the statement said.

SEC Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney told reporters in a conference call that the action against BNY Mellon was the first to arise from an enforcement “sweep” by the agency of sovereign wealth funds.

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