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Wells Fargo bogus-account scandal said to draw US probe

Thursday, September 15, 2016 - 08:59

39838925 - 13_09_2016 - FILES-US-BANKING-CONSUMERS-FINE-WELLSFARGO.jpg
Federal prosecutors are investigating Wells Fargo & Co in connection with the bank's sales practices after it agreed to pay US$185 million in fines for opening more than 2 million unauthorised accounts, according to a person familiar with the Justice Department investigation.

[SAN FRANCISCO] Federal prosecutors are investigating Wells Fargo & Co in connection with the bank's sales practices after it agreed to pay US$185 million in fines for opening more than 2 million unauthorised accounts, according to a person familiar with the Justice Department investigation.

US attorneys in New York and San Francisco have opened criminal inquiries, the person said, adding that under Justice Department guidelines, investigators will look into both potential corporate and individual wrongdoing.

Wells Fargo on Sept 8 settled allegations that it opened credit-card and deposit accounts for customers without their approval, while not admitting or denying wrongdoing.

Wells Fargo fired 5,300 workers over the matter and said it would eliminate sales goals regulators linked to its practice of cross-selling products. Chief executive officer John Stumpf also sent an e-mail to customers on Wednesday apologising for the actions.

Included in the US$185 million settlement, Wells Fargo will pay a record US$100 million fine to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and US$35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the two federal regulators that investigated the bank.

The amount also includes US$50 million to the Los Angeles city attorney in civil penalties, the largest that agency says it has ever received.

Abraham Simmons, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office in San Francisco declined to comment on the probe, while James Margolin, a spokesman for US Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, didn't immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

The Justice Department investigation was reported earlier Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal. Prosecutors issued a subpoena for documents and other materials, according to the newspaper.

Mark Folk, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based bank, declined to comment.

Wells Fargo fell 0.9 per cent to close at US$46.52 in New York, erasing earlier gains. The stock has slumped 6.5 per cent since the settlement was announced, the worst performance in the 24-company KBW Bank Index.

Following criticisms that US authorities had failed to hold bankers to account in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Justice Department last September issued a policy requiring all civil and criminal cases begin and end with a focus on individual accountability.

Under the policy, laid out in a memo by top department official Sally Quillian Yates, companies facing criminal investigations would have to turn over information about any responsible individuals in order to win reduced penalties.

Wells Fargo hired a consulting firm within the last year to review the bank's data on all deposit and credit-card accounts opened since 2011, chief financial officer John Shrewsberry said this week at an investor conference in New York.

The consultant found that 1.5 million deposit accounts and 565,000 credit-card accounts may not have been authorised by customers, according to a presentation Mr Shrewsberry gave at the conference.

He said the consultant found that 115,000 of the unauthorised accounts had been charged fees. The bank has refunded US$2.6 million to affected customers, he said.

BLOOMBERG

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