U.S. joins international bribery investigation of HP

The United States has joined Russia and Germany in their investigation into whether Hewlett-Packard Co. executives paid millions in bribes to win a prized Russian contract.

The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Friday it would examine whether a company subsidiary paid $10 million in bribes through back channels to obtain a $35-million contract with the Russian prosecutor general.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, instituted in 1977, prohibits U.S. companies from pursuing such deals with foreign leaders. If found guilty, the DOJ could pursue criminal penalties against HP executives who lead the charge.

Additionally, the Securities and Exchange Commission could levy stiff civil penalties on the company, which only recently overcame a 2006 scandal that culminated with the resignation of former CEO Patty Dunn.

Already, Russian officials have raided HP's Moscow office, while German court records show the authorities have named three suspects.

A spokeswoman for HP told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that the company "is fully cooperating" with the international investigation. SEC officials, however, declined to comment on the early stages of the probe.