WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI is investigating Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc and insurer American International Group Inc, expanding its probe of potential corporate fraud, law enforcement officials said on Wednesday.
They said the probe of the four high-profile companies at the center of the current financial crisis that has triggered the Bush administration's proposed $700 billion bailout was in the preliminary stage and no criminal charges were imminent.
While declining to confirm that the four companies were under investigation, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the FBI now is probing 26 cases of potential corporate fraud related to the collapse of the U.S. mortgage lending industry.
Just last week, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the U.S. Congress that 24 cases of potential corporate fraud were under investigation.
The FBI has been under increasing pressure from lawmakers to investigate fraud related to the mortgage crisis, which has expanded to a broader credit crunch. The financial-market turmoil has prompted the Bush administration to seek a $700 billion rescue package.
A spokesman for AIG said, "We don't have details about the FBI investigation. Of course we will cooperate with the FBI." A spokeswoman for Lehman Brothers declined comment. Officials at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not immediately available.
In testimony before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, the FBI chief vowed to pursue corporate executives if necessary in mortgage fraud cases.
Mueller said the FBI was looking at all levels of the mortgage systems. With respect to the corporate probes, which could result in federal charges, the allegations would deal with misstatements of assets, he said.
The officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, and said the matter was sensitive and could affect the stock market and any bailout.
"It's not helpful to anyone to name specific corporations under investigation," one official said.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "As part of our investigative responsibility, the FBI conducts corporate fraud investigations. The number of cases fluctuates over time, however we do not discuss which companies may or may not be the subject of an investigation."
additional reporting by Randall Mikkelsen; Editing by David Wiessler