Indonesian company in StanChart probe removed founders

JAKARTA (AFP) - An Indonesian power company said Wednesday it had removed its founders last year and takes seriously allegations of "improper behaviour" after revelations US justice officials are probing Standard Chartered over suspected bribery at the firm.

London-based, Asia-focused Standard Chartered, which controls the MAXpower Group, acknowledged Tuesday it was being investigated by the US Department of Justice over claims the Indonesian company had paid kickbacks to secure contracts.

The bank said it had referred the matter to the "appropriate authorities" and launched its own review.

The Wall Street Journal said that an internal audit at MAXpower found evidence of possible bribery and US prosecutors were examining whether Standard Chartered was culpable for not stopping it.

MAXpower said in a statement that it "takes any allegations of improper behaviour very seriously", adding it had removed its three founders from day-to-day management of the business in mid-2015 before terminating their employment in December.

"Since the restructuring of the company's shareholding and management in mid-2015, the company has implemented robust remedial actions including enhanced internal controls," it said. "We have engaged and continue to work with professional advisory firms to fully investigate issues and questions that have been raised."

The company, which builds power plants in Southeast Asia, added the allegations in the report "provide a one-sided and partial view of the operations and events at MAXpower and as such do not give a full, or true view". Standard Chartered began investing in MAXpower in 2012 and is the majority shareholder.

The Department of Justice did not comment when contacted by AFP.

The Wall Street Journal said the MAXpower internal audit found that more than US$750,000 (S$1.01 million) in cash advances needed to be examined as possible bribes, while lawyers who reviewed the audit found indications that employees made inappropriate payments to Indonesian government officials between 2012 and 2015.

A source close to the case told AFP the US authorities were examining whether Standard Chartered, via its representatives on the MAXpower board, was aware of alleged bribes to win government contracts. The investigation would also look at why the bank's alert procedures for spotting such matters had not been triggered.

But the probe will focus on whether Standard Chartered has violated the terms of its 2012 deferred prosecution agreements with the Department of Justice.

Standard Chartered paid US$667 million in 2012 to settle charges it violated US sanctions by handling thousands of money transactions involving Iran, Myanmar, Libya and Sudan.

In August 2014, the bank was hit by US regulators with a US$300 million fine and restrictions on its dollar-clearing business for failing to detect possible money-laundering.