01/14/2011 11:55 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

SEC Probes Banks, Funds Over International Bribery Concerns

(Reuters) The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether banks and private-equity firms violated bribery laws in their dealings with sovereign-wealth funds, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The newspaper, citing people familiar with the matter, said the SEC has sent letters of inquiry to as many as 10 companies in the past week.

Among the companies are Citigroup and private-equity firm Blackstone Group , the report said.

One person familiar with a firm that received a letter said it was brief, indicating the investigation was at the early stages, the Journal reported.

Sovereign-wealth funds have in recent years invested in private-equity funds and the biggest Wall Street firms, taking stakes in Citigroup, Merrill Lynch before its acquisition by Bank of America , and Morgan Stanley .

For example, in 2007, China Investment, which manages more than $300 billion, invested in both Morgan Stanley and Blackstone.

An SEC spokesman declined to comment.

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