FBI Brazil graft, scheme involving medical equipment sales.

The FBI is investigating corporate giants Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, General Electric and Philips for allegedly paying kickbacks as part of a scheme involving medical equipment sales in Brazil, two Brazilian investigators have told Reuters.

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The firms are suspected by Brazilian prosecutors of channeling illegal payoffs to government officials to secure contracts with public health programs across the South American country over the past two decades.

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Brazilian authorities say more than 20 companies may have been part of a “cartel” that paid bribes and charged the government inflated prices for medical gear such as magnetic resonance imaging machines and prosthetics.

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The four multinationals, with a combined market capitalization of nearly $600 billion at Thursday’s market close, are the largest foreign enterprises to be investigated in an unprecedented anti-corruption push in Brazil in recent years.

The FBI would not confirm or deny the existence of any investigations.

Big U.S. and European firms found to have engaged in wrongdoing in Brazil could also face heavy fines and other punishment under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Since 1977, that law has made it illegal for American citizens, U.S. companies or foreign companies whose securities are listed in the United States to pay foreign officials to win business.

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