JPMorgan Chase To Pay $264M To Settle Corruption Allegations For Hiring Friends, Family Of Government Officials

Image courtesy of Gary Burke

Over a period of seven years, JPMorgan Chase hired or gave internships to around 200 individuals, not because they were the best people for their positions (they often weren’t), but at the request of foreign government officials and clients. That practice, alleged U.S. regulators, was a violation of federal law. Now Chase has agreed to pay a total of more than $264 million to settle these allegations of nepotism-gone-too-far.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act forbids certain companies and company officials from making “an offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of any money, or offer, gift, promise to give, or authorization of the giving of anything of value to any foreign official” to gain influence or secure an unfair advantage.

Between 2006 and 2013, JPMorgan investment bankers in its Asia-Pacific (APAC) regional offices created a client referral hiring program to, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, “leverage the promise of well-paying, career building JPMorgan employment for the relatives and friends of senior officials with its clients in order to assist JPMorgan APAC in obtaining or retaining business.”

This program went beyond mere referral, argued the SEC, which alleged that potential hires referred through this process did not undergo the same rigorous screening as legitimate job candidates.

“Referral Hires did not compete against other candidates based on merit and, in most instances, were less qualified” writes the SEC in its settlement order [PDF]. “Referral Hires whose relationships generated sufficient revenue for JPMorgan APAC were offered longer-term jobs, while others were given shorter terms of employment unless the referring client offered additional business to the firm.”

The SEC says that JPMorgan tracked the revenue to the firm that could be directly connected to clients who had “referred” a job candidate through this program.

“The misconduct was so blatant that JPMorgan investment bankers created ‘Referral Hires vs Revenue’ spreadsheets to track the money flow from clients whose referrals were rewarded with jobs,” explains Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit. “The firm’s internal controls were so weak that not a single referral hire request was denied.”

Nearly half of the hires during this time period came either through foreign government officials at more than 20 different Chinese state-owned entities (SOEs). These SOEs were at the same time responsible for more than $100 million in revenue to the bank. JPMorgan also allegedly gained an advantage through these official connections by having help to navigate the complicated regulatory policies of these governments.

“The so-called Sons and Daughters Program was nothing more than bribery by another name,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Caldwell in statement today. “Awarding prestigious employment opportunities to unqualified individuals in order to influence government officials is corruption, plain and simple.”

The SEC contends that JPMorgan knew this practice could violate the law, but that the bankers continued it regardless, and that bank staff “often provided inaccurate or incomplete information as part of the legal and compliance review designed to prevent these violations, or withheld key information so that the Referral Hires would pass compliance review.”

Since being flagged for potential FCPA violations, the DOJ notes that the bank has made a number of changes. Five employees involved in the referral program are no longer with the company (though four of them resigned). Another 23 employees who failed to identify this misconduct, or who participated at the direction of a superior, have been disciplined. The bank has also imposed around $18 million in sanctions on former or current employees connected to the referral process. This is all in addition to improved training and standardized hiring practices that require all applications be routed through a centralized human resources application process.

To close the books on the alleged FCPA violations, the JPMorgan will pay $130 million to settle SEC charges that it won business from clients and corruptly influenced government officials in the Asia-Pacific region by giving jobs and internships to their relatives and friends. Another $72 million will go to the Justice Department and $61.9 million to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors for a total of more than $264 million.

“JPMorgan engaged in a systematic bribery scheme by hiring children of government officials and other favored referrals who were typically unqualified for the positions on their own merit,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “JPMorgan employees knew the firm was potentially violating the FCPA yet persisted with the improper hiring program because the business rewards and new deals were deemed too lucrative.”