U.S. lawmakers launch Wal-Mart bribery probe

Tue Apr 24, 2012 3:44am IST

People walk past a Wal-Mart store with a banner reading ''Low prices, every day, in everything'' in Mexico City April 21, 2012. REUTERS/Bernardo Montoya

People walk past a Wal-Mart store with a banner reading ''Low prices, every day, in everything'' in Mexico City April 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Bernardo Montoya

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REUTERS - Two Democratic U.S. lawmakers on Monday said they were launching an investigation into allegations of bribery at Wal-Mart Stores Inc's (WMT.N) Mexican affiliate.

Representative Elijah Cummings, top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Representative Henry Waxman, top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Wal-Mart Chief Executive Mike Duke, requesting an in-person meeting with company officials.

The lawmakers also said they are contacting former Wal-Mart executives who may have documents or information relevant to a congressional investigation.

The New York Times this weekend reported that the world's largest retailer stymied an internal probe into bribery at its Mexican affiliate -- Wal-Mart de Mexico (Walmex) (WALMEXV.MX) -- in the middle of the last decade.

The allegations, if true, could be violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a U.S. law that forbids the payment of bribes to foreign government officials.

Cummings and Waxman said the New York Times report "raises significant questions about the actions of top company officials in the United States who reportedly tried to disregard substantial evidence of abuse."

The lawmakers told Duke that they wanted a meeting no later than April 27 with company officials who can respond to the allegations.

They said they were also contacting Joseph Lewis, Wal-Mart's former director of corporate investigations; Maritza Munich, the former General Counsel of Wal-Mart International; and Sergio Cicero Zapata, a former executive in Wal-Mart de Mexico's real estate department.

According to the New York Times, current CEO Duke and former CEO Lee Scott were among senior executives allegedly aware of suspicions of bribery in Mexico as Wal-Mart aggressively built its business in the country.

"The allegations that Wal-Mart officials in Mexico may have broken U.S. laws by bribing officials to get their stores built faster raise serious concerns. But I am even more alarmed by reports that top company executives in the U.S. tried to cover-up these abuses," Cummings said in a statement.

Separately, lawmakers in Mexico called on authorities to investigate the bribery allegations.

(Reporting By Karey Wutkowski; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and David Gregorio)

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