BNY Mellon used “valuable” student internships as a bribery tool, providing them to relatives of officials of a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund to win or retain business, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged Tuesday.
The case is the first to be brought against a bank for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the first foreign bribery enforcement action in which internships, as opposed to cash, constituted the alleged bribe.
According to an administrative order, BNY Mellon agreed to pay $14.8 million to settle the charges, which involved its hiring in 2010 of three interns who are related to two officials of the Middle Eastern fund. The officials had asked employees of the bank to hire them.
“The FCPA prohibits companies from improperly influencing foreign officials with ‘anything of value,’ and therefore cash payments, gifts, internships, or anything else used in corrupt attempts to win business can expose companies to an SEC enforcement action,” Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC Enforcement Division, said in a news release.
“BNY Mellon deserved significant sanction for providing valuable student internships to family members of foreign officials to influence their actions,” he added.
Reuters said the case evolved from a 2011 industrywide sweep in which the SEC sought information about financial institutions’ business dealings with state-owned investment funds. Other banks including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Deutsche Bank have also been investigated over whether their hiring practices violated the FCPA.
The SEC said BNY Mellon hired the son and nephew of one official to work as interns in its Boston office. The official was viewed at the bank as a “key decision maker” and “persistently inquired of BNY Mellon employees concerning the status of his internship request.”
“[B]y not allowing the internships to take place, we potentially jeopardize our mandate with [the fund],” an account manager wrote in an e-mail.
In the case of the other official, whose son was hired as an intern at the bank’s London office, a custody relationship manager explained to more senior bank officers, “Its [sic] silly things like this that help influence who ends up with more assets.”
According to the SEC, the interns did not meet BNY Mellon’s basic entrance standard and turned out to be “less than exemplary employees.”