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Last updated: August 19, 2013 1:09 pm
US regulators are investigating the hiring practices of JPMorgan Chase in Hong Kong, in a move that could cast an unflattering light on the relationships between Wall Street banks and the sons and daughters of Chinese government officials.
JPMorgan disclosed in a recent regulatory filing that it has received a request from the US Securities and Exchange Commission “seeking information and documents relating to, among other matters, the firm’s employment of certain former employees in Hong Kong and its business relationships with certain clients”.
A person familiar with the investigation said that it involves the bank’s hiring of Tang Xiaoning, son of a former Chinese banking regulator who is now chairman of the state-owned China Everbright Group, and Zhang Xixi, the daughter of a Chinese railway official.
A Beijing-based spokesperson for JPMorgan said the bank was fully co-operating with the US authorities but declined to comment further.
The investigation is likely to cause consternation on Wall Street and in the corridors of power in China, where hiring the sons and daughters of prominent politicians or business leaders is considered de rigueur as part of a system that places heavy emphasis on “guanxi,” or personal connections, as a way of securing new business.
In their rush to capitalise on China’s economic growth, virtually all the big Wall Street and European financial institutions with operations in the country have habitually hired “princelings”, as the children of senior Chinese officials are known.
Goldman Sachs once hired Jiang Zhicheng, grandson of the former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, for its direct private investment arm, for instance.
A senior Chinese official told the Financial Times that the Chinese government had not launched its own investigation into JPMorgan or its hiring practices in the country, but that the revelations are causing concern because the practice of hiring the children of senior officials to work at financial institutions is very common.
Some individual Chinese officials are worried their own children could also be named in media reports or in investigations in the US, the senior official said.
Two people familiar with the matter confirmed that Tang Xiaoning and Zhang Xixi had previously worked at JPMorgan and that Mr Tang left the company in December 2012. Attempts to reach Mr Tang and Ms Zhang were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for the SEC declined to comment on the investigation, which was first reported by the New York Times.
US authorities have to date rarely investigated Wall Street’s business practices in China, though a former Morgan Stanley adviser was last year sent to prison after bribing a Chinese official to win lucrative real estate investments for the bank.
In recent years, foreign banks are said to have found it increasingly difficult to attract the offspring of the country’s most senior leaders thanks to the rise of a domestic private equity industry that provides lucrative opportunities for Chinese investors with powerful family backgrounds.
In private conversations, executives at western banks admit they are now more likely to hire the children of vice-ministers or provincial vice-governors, whereas a few years ago the parents of their recruits were usually minister level or above.
The investigation could add to JPMorgan’s recent regulatory woes. The investment bank faces a string of regulatory investigations related to its $6bn “London Whale” trading loss, as well as questions over its commodities and energy businesses.
With additional reporting by Kara Scannell and Stephen Foley in New York.
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