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Investigation into Heinz trades extends to London

NEW YORK — Regulators have escalated an investigation into suspicious trades placed ahead of the $23 billion takeover of H.J. Heinz Co., focusing on a complex derivatives bet routed through London, according to two people briefed on the matter.

The development builds on a recent regulatory action on a Goldman Sachs account in Switzerland that bought Heinz options contracts. It also comes a week after the FBI said it opened a criminal inquiry.

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An unusual spike in trading volume in Heinz options a day before the deal was announced first attracted the scrutiny of investigators. The Securities and Exchange Commission is also examining fluctuations in ordinary stock trades.

Now the SEC is looking into a more opaque corner of the investing world, examining a product known as a contract-for-difference, a derivative that allows investors to bet on changes in the price of stocks without owning the shares. Such contracts are not regulated in the United States, but are popular in Britain.

The expanded investigation illustrates the growing challenges facing US regulators. Tasked with policing the US exchanges, authorities increasingly find themselves having to hunt through a dizzyingly complex global marketplace.

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