(Bloomberg) -- The US Securities and Exchange Commission is asking publicly traded tech companies about their relationships with distributors and other business partners outside the US in a push to root out possible corruption, according to people familiar with the matter.

The SEC started sending letters to the firms earlier this year under its mandate to enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime to offer anything of value to non-US officials in an effort to win business. 

The agency’s FCPA unit is asking whether the companies did business with a list of dozens of intermediaries — some of which have been implicated in other investigations — across various regions, including Asia, Latin America and Africa, said one of the people. All of the people familiar asked not to be named discussing a confidential matter.

The companies that have received the inquiries about their contractors couldn’t immediately be identified. They haven’t been accused of wrongdoing and the inquiry, which is in its early stages, could result in no action. 

A probe by the agency’s enforcement division, of which the FCPA unit is a part, can lead to fines or other civil penalties against companies and individuals. The SEC declined to comment.

The inquiries came from staff at the SEC’s Fort Worth office, which has been involved in high profile investigations into alleged corruption. One of those led to a $144 million settlement by Walmart Inc., which accepted the findings. That same office was also involved in an investigation into software giant Oracle Corp., which in 2022 agreed, for the second time, to resolve corruption charges. Oracle didn’t admit or deny wrongdoing.

The letters are part of an enforcement sweep, which typically involves sending questions to multiple companies in a particular industry. The SEC, which shares a mandate with the Justice Department to enforce the FCPA, is focusing across the tech supply chain on companies that sell equipment and/or services to governments, said one of the people.

In a sign of the regulator’s increased scrutiny of the sector, the SEC in January accused SAP SE of illegally using intermediaries to win business from public-sector customers in South Africa, Indonesia and other countries. The German firm ultimately paid $220 million to settle cases with the SEC and the Justice Department.

The tech sector is especially vulnerable because those companies tend to lean heavily on local distributors and partners to sell their products and services around the world. Scrutiny of those entities can cause multiple companies to be swept into a probe.

--With assistance from Austin Weinstein.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.