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Probe on Walmart bribery case finds little sign of major offenses in Mexico

Published 19 October 2015

A federal investigation into allegations of corruption at Wal-Mart Stores's Mexican operations has found little sign of major offenses, and may lead to a smaller case than investigators had initially considered.

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Although the three-year investigation has not concluded, most of the work is complete and the US-based department store chain could be levied with a fine but might not suffer criminal charges against its executives who are suspected to be involved in corruption, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Under the same investigation, authorities found evidence of bribery in India, spread across small payments made to local officials. In this regard, Walmart is likely to face charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the US.

The US Justice Department initiated its investigation in 2012 after two New York Times articles reported about the retailer's alleged bribery payments made in Mexico to obtain store construction permits.

The articles provided details of Walmart's Mexico unit's alleged illegal payments made to middlemen and also elucidated on how the senior officials of the chain sabotaged an internal inquiry regarding the suspicious payments, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The US government probe revealed that some of the allegations reported by The New York Times articles were contradictory to the evidence. However, the investigating officials did not discard the possibility of finding new evidence in the final stages of investigation that could change the course of the case.

However, The New York Times deputy executive editor Matt Purdy, said that the articles were based on the internal documents of Walmart, describing several suspicious payments made involving millions of dollars.

Among these documents, was one written by the company's own investigators concluding that there was reasonable suspicion to believe that the Mexican unit of the department store chain to have repeatedly violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Similar payments were allegedly made in India too by the retailer. Several small payments were made to low-level officers to help push goods through customs and secure real-estate permits. Most of the suspicious payments were less than $200, and some were as low as $5, but they all added up to millions of dollars.

Image: Walmart Neighborhood Market in Huntington Beach, California.Photo: Courtesy of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.