SEATTLE -- Federal authorities are examining Microsoft's involvement with companies and individuals that allegedly paid bribes to overseas government officials in exchange for business, according to a person briefed on the inquiry.
The United States Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have both opened preliminary investigations into the bribery allegations involving Microsoft in China, Italy and Romania, according to the person, who declined to be named because the inquiry is a confidential legal matter.
Microsoft's practices in those countries are being looked at for potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal law that prohibits American companies from making illegal payments to government officials and others overseas to further their business interests.
In a blog post Tuesday afternoon, John Frank, vice president and deputy general counsel of Microsoft, said the company could not comment about continuing inquiries. Mr. Frank said it was not uncommon for such government reviews to find that allegations were without merit.
"We take all allegations brought to our attention seriously and we cooperate fully in any government inquiries," Mr. Frank said in the blog post. "Like other large companies with operations around the world we sometimes receive allegations about potential misconduct by employees or business partners and we investigate them fully regardless of the source. We also invest heavily in proactive training, monitoring and audits to ensure our business operations around the world meet the highest legal and ethical standards."
The Wall Street Journal first reported news of the investigations on its Web site on Tuesday.
Michael Passman, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the department had a policy of not confirming or denying the existence of investigations. A spokesman for the S.E.C. could not be reached immediately for comment.
The allegations in China were first shared with United States officials last year by an unnamed whistle-blower, who had worked with Microsoft in the country, according to the person briefed on the inquiry. The whistle-blower said that a Microsoft official in China directed the whistle-blower to pay bribes to government officials to win business deals, this person said. After this incident, the whistle-blower had a business conflict with Microsoft, the person added.
In 2010, Microsoft itself conducted an internal investigation of the allegations, with the help of an outside law firm, that found no evidence of improper behavior, this person said.
The federal agencies are also looking at Microsoft's relationship with outsiders in Romania and Italy, including software resellers and consultants, who are said to have bribed government officials to secure contracts for government business, this person said.
Edward Wyatt contributed reporting from Washington and Ben Protess from New York.interact
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.