Qualcomm faces potential SEC probe over Chinese bribery allegations

Qualcomm has found instances of gift giving to "individuals" with China's state-owned companies

Qualcomm's activities in China could result in regulatory penalties for the chip vendor, this time from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over bribery allegations.

The company is already facing an anti-monopoly probe from Chinese authorities for allegedly overcharging clients. But on Wednesday, Qualcomm said that the SEC may also consider penalizing the company, as part of an anti-corruption investigation.

The SEC's Los Angeles Regional Office has made a preliminary decision to recommend that the SEC take action against Qualcomm for violating anti-bribery controls, the company said in its second quarter report. The accusations involve Qualcomm offering benefits to "individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies," the report added.

Both the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice have been probing the company over alleged violations of the nation's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

In cooperation with those official investigations, Qualcomm said it's found instances of preferential hiring, and giving gifts and other benefits to "several individuals" with China's state-owned companies. The gifts and benefits amounted to less than US$250,000 in value.

If the SEC takes action against Qualcomm, penalties could include giving up profits, facing injunctions, and other monetary penalties, the company said. Earlier this month, Qualcomm filed a submission with the U.S. regulator, countering any claims of wrongdoing.

Qualcomm is facing the investigations at a time when China is increasingly become a bigger part of its business. The nation is the world's largest smartphone market, and more Chinese device manufacturers are expanding globally.

Last year, however, Chinese regulators began investigating Qualcomm due to complaints from industry groups. The company was allegedly abusing its market position and charging higher fees for its patent licensing business. In November, Chinese authorities conducted two surprise raids of Qualcomm offices in China for documents.

Chinese regulators could decide to penalize Qualcomm by confiscating financial gains made, and even imposing a fine of 1 to 10 percent on its revenues for the prior year, the company said in its quarterly report.

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