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The Justice Department is investigating possible antitrust violations by Visa International, a source familiar with the probe said.

Gina Talamona, a spokeswoman for the antitrust division at the Justice Department, would only confirm that the department "recently" began "looking at competitive issues involving the prohibition of certain joint ventures in the credit card industry."Talamona could not confirm that Visa was the target of the probe, but a person familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it is.

A call to Visa seeking comment was not immediately returned.

The investigation was first reported Wednesday by The American Banker, an industry newspaper.

The investigation follows complaints by American Express Co. that Visa's policy of prohibiting its U.S. card issuers from issuing any other brand of credit card is anti-competitive. MasterCard, the second-largest credit-card provider, does not have such a rule.

American Express last month announced a campaign to get banks to overturn the policy in the United States and to decline to impose it in the European Community. It also filed a formal complaint with the European Union, following similar measures taken by Dean Witter Discover and Co. and Citicorp's Diners Club subsidiary.