Wal-Mart bribery probe finds few major offenses in Mexico: WSJ

2005 email from executive described bribes

(Reuters) — A federal probe into allegations of corruption at Wal-Mart Stores Inc's Mexico operations has found few major offenses, and is likely to result in a much smaller case than investigators expected, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the situation.

The three-year investigation is mostly complete and the case could be resolved with a fine and without any criminal charges, the newspaper said.

As part of the same probe, investigators found evidence of bribery in India, centering on widespread but relatively small payments made to local officials, the Journal said. Wal-Mart is likely to face U.S. foreign-bribery charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act over those payments, the newspaper said.

Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Hitt said the company was cooperating with the government on the matter. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the status of the investigation.

U.S. lawmakers launched an investigation after the New York Times reported in 2012 that Wal-Mart de Mexico (Walmex) had engaged in a multi-year campaign of bribery to build its business. 

The NYT report said a senior Wal-Mart lawyer had received an email from a former Walmex executive in September 2005 describing how Wal-Mart de Mexico had paid bribes to obtain permits to build stores across the country.

According to the Times, Wal-Mart sent investigators to Mexico City and found a paper trail of suspect payments totaling more than US$24 million. But the company's top executives shut down the probe and did not notify U.S. or Mexican law enforcement officials until after the newspaper informed Wal-Mart that it was looking into the issue.

After the NYT report in April 2012, Wal-Mart had lost US$10 billion of its market value on concerns that the bribery investigation in Mexico could be very costly and hinder its plans to grow.

In November 2012, Indian authorities were investigating claims that Wal-Mart violated foreign exchange rules when it invested $100 million in its Indian joint venture. Wal-Mart's Indian joint venture suspended its chief financial officer and other employees as part of its investigations.

Latest stories