Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. , one of the world's largest agricultural traders, said it could be subject to criminal fines over possible violations of a U.S. law prohibiting bribes to foreign officials.
The first public disclosure comes 15 years after the company pleaded guilty to charges it fixed lysine and citric acid prices, paying a then-record $100-million (U.S.) antitrust fine.
In an annual report filed with regulators last week, ADM said it had hired outside lawyers to review transactions, mainly in grain and feed exports, that may have broken laws including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The New York-listed company first informed authorities including the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission in March, 2009, that it was reviewing the transactions and its anti-corruption compliance program, the filing said.
"In connection with this review, government agencies could impose civil penalties or criminal fines," or order profits from any contracts involving inappropriate payments to be disgorged, the report said. The matter will not materially affect the company's finances, ADM said. A spokesman declined to elaborate.
The company, alone and through joint ventures, buys, ships and sells agricultural commodities in more than 75 countries and is a top trader of corn, wheat, soy beans and cocoa.
"Anybody involved in global trading can be subject to requests of things that are not acceptable common practices in the United States," said David Nelson, global strategist at Rabobank.
The low-profile company gained notoriety after the price-fixing scandal of the 1990s, which in addition to the fine, resulted in prison terms for three former executives. In 2004 ADM paid $400-million to settle a class-action lawsuit over sales of high-fructose corn syrup.
ADM has made a point of broadcasting an ethical corporate culture since the affair. When Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh was filming The Informant, a 2009 film about the scandal, his team was allowed on company property.
"Throughout ADM, we are committed to achieving the right results, the right way," the company said on its website.
U.S. prosecutors have been pursuing foreign bribery cases against companies across numerous industries, collecting billions of dollars in fines and forcing some companies to admit wrongdoing.
Last autumn six oil companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines in a freight-forwarding probe for allegedly bribing customs officials to ease the entry of their rigs and other supplies into Nigeria and other North African countries.