January 10, 2013 7:45 pm

Walmart in new scrutiny on Mexico claims

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Walmart is facing fresh scrutiny over corruption allegations in Mexico after US lawmakers released confidential company documents that they said contradicted the retailer’s public statements.

The documents are claimed to show Mike Duke, Walmart’s current chief executive, being briefed by email in November 2005 about allegations that Walmart had paid bribes to secure permits to open new stores in Mexico.

Although two congressmen said the email contradicted Walmart’s previous claims, the retailer firmly disputed that. “The fact is the chronology of events relied upon in their letter is inaccurate,” Walmart said.

The company has never said publicly that Mr Duke or other senior executives at its Arkansas headquarters did not know of the allegations by 2005.

The allegations made against Walmart in the New York Times in April 2012 were that it paid bribes for new stores in Mexico and that executives then orchestrated a cover-up by shutting down a preliminary internal probe in 2006.

Mr Duke, who has been chief executive since 2009, became head of Walmart’s international business – which includes the Mexico division – in 2005.

The documents released include an email sent by a Walmart lawyer to Mr Duke and other executives detailing a meeting held in Mexico City with Sergio Cicero, a former employee who later became a corruption whistleblower.

Walmart has long said that it is “deeply concerned” by the allegations and has launched an internal investigation into them.

Its investigation is running alongside parallel probes by the US justice department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Democratic congressmen Elijah Cummings and Henry Waxman.

The retailer, the world’s largest by sales, said it had already given the documents released by the congressmen on Thursday to the justice department and the SEC.

“There is no new information in the letter released today by Congressman Waxman and Congressman Cummings,” Walmart said.

“This information has been part of the company’s ongoing investigation of potential violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for more than a year and has been the subject of two New York Times articles.”

Walmart shares slipped by 0.7 per cent to $68.11 on Thursday while the overall market rose slightly, but most investors have so far brushed off the bribery allegations.

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