US bank JP Morgan Chase is to pay $264m (£212m) to settle claims it hired the children of highly placed Chinese officials to gain business in China.
The Department of Justice called the scheme “bribery by any other name” and said it threatened national security.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Justice Department (DoJ) began an investigation in 2013.
The bank will pay the SEC $130m for violations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
It is also expected to pay $72m to the US Justice Department and $61.9m to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which effectively bans US companies from paying foreign government officials to help them secure business, is one of the strictest bribery laws in the world.
JP Morgan was found to have designed a scheme to hire otherwise unqualified candidates for prestigious investment banking jobs solely because they were introduced to the bank by officials who could give it business.
JPMorgan did not pay Chinese officials directly, but the US authorities decided what it was doing amounted to the same thing.
In some cases, the DoJ said that candidates were hired on the understanding that the job was linked to the award of specific business. It said amounted to corruption.
The SEC said that over seven years, about 100 interns and full-time employees were hired at the request of foreign government officials, enabling JP Morgan to win or retain business that generated more than $100m in revenues.
It said: “JP Morgan employees knew the firm was potentially violating the [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act], yet persisted with the improper hiring program because the business rewards and new deals were deemed too lucrative.”
Kara Brockmeyer, of the SEC, said the misconduct was “so blatant that JP Morgan investment bankers created ‘referral hires vs revenue’ spreadsheets” to track the money flow.
The DoJ’s William Sweeney said: “When foreign officials are among those involved in the bribe, the international free market system and our national security are among the major threats we face.”
Shares in JP Morgan rose 1.1% in New York to $78.25 and are up by almost a fifth this year.