HP bribery probe eyes shell companies in NZ

German prosecutors are investigating whether Hewlett-Packard executives paid €8 million ($NZ15.24 million) in bribes  via a complex network which included plans to use shell companies in New Zealand – to win a €35 million Russian contract. The US has joined German and Russian authorities investigating whether H-P paid the bribes, the Wall Street Journal reported.

German prosecutors are investigating whether Hewlett-Packard executives paid €8 million ($NZ15.24 million) in bribes  via a complex network which included plans to use shell companies in New Zealand – to win a €35 million Russian contract.

The US has joined German and Russian authorities investigating whether H-P paid the bribes, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The US Justice Department and the Securities & Exchange Commission are investigating whether H-P committed any violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as part of a widening probe into the company's activities.

The law bars American companies from bribing foreign government officials anywhere in the world.

An HP spokeswoman said the company had discussions on Thursday with the SEC regarding the German probe "and is fully cooperating with US and German authorities on this matter."

German prosecutors have centred their inquiry on the suspected bribes on one current and two former senior executives of the US computer maker, and people under investigation include a former head of HP's sales operations in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

German authorities ordered the arrest of the three in early December but investigators haven't found any evidence that they enriched themselves.

Russian investigators raided HP's Moscow offices on Wednesday in connection with the German bribery probe, which court records show has been under way for two years.

The German prosecutors are investigating whether HP executives devised a plan to send funds to Russia through a complex network involving German middlemen, shell companies spread from Wyoming to New Zealand, and a Moscow computer supplier, according to German court records and people close to the investigation.

The prosecutors are looking into whether a German HP subsidiary, Hewlett-Packard International Sales Europe, after receiving a €35 million payment for the Russian contract, sent about €8 million in suspected bribes back to unidentified officials in Russia.

Prosecutors suspect that money was funnelled through three German middlemen, all independent sellers of H-P equipment based in eastern Germany, who allegedly received fake invoices from shell companies.

Authorities say they are still trying to determine the ultimate recipients of the payments, which court records show were sent between 2004 and 2006.