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(Reuters) - Bank of New York Mellon Corp (BK.N) will pay $14.8 million to settle U.S. civil charges it gave internships to family members of officials linked to a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund, violating federal bribery laws.
The settlement by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission marked the first time regulators had charged a bank for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits paying bribes to foreign officials.
It followed a 2011 industrywide sweep, undertaken as part of a broader foreign bribery probe, in which the SEC sought information about financial institutions' business dealings with state-owned investment funds.
The BNY Mellon case is also the first foreign bribery enforcement action in which internships, as opposed to cash, constituted the alleged bribe, SEC enforcement director Andrew Ceresney said.
Other banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) and Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE) have also been investigated over whether their hiring practices violated the foreign bribery statute.
"BNY Mellon deserved significant sanction for providing valuable student internships to family members of foreign officials to influence their actions," Andrew Ceresney, the SEC's director of enforcement, said in a statement.
According to the SEC, BNY Mellon beginning in 2010 hired as interns the son and nephew of an official with the Middle East fund, and the son of another official in its European office.
The SEC said the bank did not choose the interns through its usual, highly competitive hiring process.
Instead, BNY Mellon sought to corruptly win or keep asset management and service business from the fund, a client since 2000 with about $55 billion at the bank, the SEC said.
One BNY Mellon employee called hiring the interns an "expensive 'favor'" in an email.
Another said "silly things like this help influence who ends up with more assets/retaining dominant position."
The interns came across as less-than-exemplary workers, the SEC said, with bank employees complaining that two were absent repeatedly and a third "wasn't actually as hardworking" as hoped.
BNY Mellon neither admitted nor denied the charges and said it has "taken steps to enhance our existing internal controls and procedures with respect to our internship and hiring practices."
The sovereign wealth fund was not named in an SEC administrative order.
BNY Mellon had previously disclosed that the SEC in 2014 indicated it might also charge current and former bank employees.
But Ceresney said the agency ultimately decided that charging individuals in this case "wasn't appropriate."
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Emily Stephenson and Christian Plumb