Blog: Dean BestWal-Mart's Mexican operations again in spotlight

Dean Best | 20 December 2012

Wal-Mart's operations in Mexico have again made headlines this week, with fresh allegations of bribery by the retailer's officials.

The US retail giant's business in the country have been under scrutiny since claims were made in April and, this week, The New York Times, which broke the initial allegations, published specific details.

In one instance, executives for Wal-Mart's Mexican business, the newspaper claimed, tried to bribe local planning officials to ease regulations prohibiting development near a region containing ancient pyramids.

The alleged bribe apparently paid off, The New York Times said, and a map outlining where developers could build was changed, allowing a Wal-Mart store to open in Christmas 2004.

Back in April, when the newspaper published its initial claims, it said Wal-Mart had learnt of the claims in 2006, including this particular alleged bribe, and launched an investigation. However, Wal-Mart closed the probe down.

The New York Times' fresh report, published on Tuesday, was part of what the newspaper said was its move to "pick up on where Wal-Mart's internal investigation was cut off".

The newspaper said it had travelled across Mexico, gathered documents on Wal-Mart's permits and interviewed government officials and the retailer's employees, including a former lawyer that had alerted the company in 2006.

"The Times's examination reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals. Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited," the newspaper said.

Wal-Mart said the claims in the article formed part of an investigation it started "more than a year ago".

A spokesperson said: "At this point, the investigation is still ongoing and we have not yet reached final conclusions. A thorough and independent investigation will take time to complete. We wish we could say more but we will not jeopardise the integrity of the investigation."

He said Wal-Mart was "continuing to cooperate with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission on this matter".

The spokesperson added: "While the investigation is ongoing, we have not waited to act. Over the past 20 months, we have made significant improvements to our compliance programs around the world and have taken a number of specific, concrete actions with respect to our processes, procedures and people."


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