Thursday 19 April 2018

JP Morgan gave $1.8m contract to Chinese ex-premier's daughter – report

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Photo: Reuters
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Photo: Reuters

JP Morgan paid $1.8m over two years to a small consulting firm run by the daughter of former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, according to a New York Times report, a relationship that is part of a wider US probe into the Wall Street bank's hiring practices in the region.

Citing documents, public filings and interviews, the newspaper said JP Morgan had a $75,000-a-month contract with a consultancy run by Lily Chang, which appeared to have only one other employee. The paper said Chang is the alias of Wen Ruchun, the only daughter of Wen Jiabao, who as premier had oversight of financial institutions at the time of the contract.

US authorities are investigating JP Morgan's hiring practices in China as part of a wider bribery probe into whether the bank traded contracts and jobs in order to win business. Investment banks globally have a long history of hiring people with key connections who can help win advisory roles on important and lucrative deals.

The practice was widespread in China from the early-2000s, when investment banks engaged in so-called 'elephant hunting' – chasing mandates to manage the multibillion dollar stock offerings of the country's big state-owned enterprises.

The distinction between hiring a relative of a foreign official who may be well connected, and employing such a person with the express hope of winning specific business, is key to proving violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The US Securities and Exchange Commission's anti-bribery unit is leading the JP Morgan probe, a person familiar with the matter previously told Reuters.

On 7 August, JP Morgan disclosed in a regulatory filing that it had a request from US regulators regarding employees in Hong Kong, but did not elaborate. The New York Times followed with a report detailing the nature of the probe, later confirmed by Reuters.

In its August report, the New York Times said two of JP Morgan's hires under investigation were of the son of the head of a Chinese state-run financial conglomerate, and the daughter of a former railway official.

Citing people with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg News reported in late-August that JP Morgan had an internal spreadsheet that linked appointments to specific deals pursued by the bank. It said JP Morgan, in response to the SEC probe, started an internal investigation in Hong Kong, which was later expanded across Asia, covering interns as well as full-time staff.

In the New York Times report on Thursday, the paper said Wen Ruchun's firm, Fullmark Consultants, was paid a total of $1.8m by JP Morgan in 2006-08.

A spokeswoman for JP Morgan in Hong Kong said the bank was "co-operating fully with regulators". She declined to comment further and referred to the bank's 1 November quarterly filing in which it gave further information about the probe, disclosing that, in addition to the SEC, the US Department of Justice and agencies from other jurisdictions were investigating hiring practices in Hong Kong.

Reuters could not immediately reach Wen Ruchun for comment.

A visit to the Beijing office cited by the New York Times as Fullmark's headquarters revealed no company of that name, suggesting the business has either closed or moved.

JP Morgan at one point hired Tang Xiaoning, the son of Tang Shuangning, chairman of state-controlled financial conglomerate China Everbright Group, and a former banking regulator, the New York Times reported in August.

After the younger Tang joined JP Morgan, the bank won several important assignments from Everbright, including advising a subsidiary on a stock offering, the newspaper reported.

The SEC is also probing JP Morgan's hiring of Zhang Xixi, the daughter of a now-disgraced Chinese railway official. The bank went on to help advise the official's company, which builds railways for the government, on its plans to go public, the New York Times reported in its August article.

According to the newspaper's latest article, there is no indication from documents seen by the New York Times that Wen brokered any deals or investments between JP Morgan and companies affiliated with her family.

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