BHP Billiton under scanner over bribery allegations

BHP Billiton is being probed in a US-Australian investigation into the firm's dealings with foreign officials, including Chinese dignitaries who were wooed as part of a multimillion-dollar hospitality and sponsorship programme for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

According to a report in Australian newspaper, The Age, the allegations were the subject of a probe by the US Department of Justice and the Australian Federal Police. The justice department's criminal division, responding to a freedom of information request said it was conducting "law enforcement proceedings" involving BHP Billiton.

According to the federal police, they had received a formal referral about the mining giant from US investigators and were working in close co-operation  with them.

The probe covers the miner's activities in several countries before 2009, including China and another two other Asian countries, said to be Cambodia and the Philippines. Also under the scanner is a deal in Western Australia.

The federal police on review of the US files have uncovered, according to a briefing given by federal agents to an international bribery taskforce last year - "suspicious transactions that had been recorded as legitimate business payments" by BHP Billiton.

The mining giant may have been in breach of US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Australian state or federal corporate and criminal laws, including foreign bribery legislation prohibiting any benefit being given to a public official in order to obtain a business advantage.