After the corruption scandals at Volkswagen and Hyundai, DaimlerChrysler could now be facing a $US640m fine in the US, as a result of a bribery probe by the US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), according to Der Spiegel magazine.

The charges date back to 2004 when a whistle-blower complaint was filed by a former employee alleging that DaimlerChrysler kept up to 40 secret bank accounts to bribe government officials in more than a dozen countries. Irregular payments have been found in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe.

According to Der Spiegel, the company is in talks to reach a settlement under which it would pay the fine. DaimlerChrysler would be required to make changes to its internal accounting system.

DaimlerChrysler is being invested under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The act bars US public companies from bribing foreign officials to gain business and from setting up slush funds to facilitate such bribery.

A whistleblower in the Chrysler corporate audit department claimed at the time that he was fired after telling senior officials, including then chief executive officer Juergen Schrempp, about corruption at the company. German federal authorities became involved in the investigation in 2005 following the suicide of the managing director of the company's plant in Nigeria, who shot himself in Germany. A suicide note reportedly referred to the bribery investigation.

Although bribery is illegal across Europe, Germany allowed tax deductions for bribery overseas until 1999, according to the Wall Street Journal. Foreign bribes by US companies were made illegal in 1977 and recently the US has stepped up enforcement of anti-bribery laws.