Wal-Mart, lobbying, bribery allegations and more

The Wal-Mart lobbying bill revelations has rocked the Indian Parliament with the political parties demanding a time-bound probe into the whether any payments were made in India.

According to media reports, the company’s lobbying disclosure reports filed with the US Senate details around $25 million (Rs 125 crore) it spent on its “lobbying activities”. Some of the activity was about “issues related to enhanced market access for investment in India,” a report on Zee News stated.

Wal-Mart can legally lobby in the US but there is no clarity on whether they have spent any money on lobbying activities in India. The UPA government has, under pressure from the Opposition, expressed its willingness to have the matter inquired.

Amidst all the chaos over whether Wal-Mart has really paid anybody in India to lobby on their behalf or not, some very vital facts are being ignored.

Wal-Mart was under investigation in the US over issues related to bribery, tax evasion and money laundering in Mexico. Two US lawmakers Elijah E. Cummings (Member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the US House of Representatives) and Henry A. Waxman (Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member) sent a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke in August this year to provide a final opportunity for the company to respond to the Committees’ requests for information on violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act before the Committees release an investigative report on their findings. (Click here to read the letter sent to Wal-Mart CEO)

A New York Times report in April 2012 had this to report on the issue:

“In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.

The former executive gave names, dates and bribe amounts. He knew so much, he explained, because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits for Wal-Mart de Mexico……….

…….The lead investigator recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation. Instead, an examination by The New York Times found, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut it down.”

Interestingly, according to an Economic Times report, “the India unit of Wal-Mart recently suspended its CFO and the entire country legal team as part of a high-profile, global investigation into potential violations of America’s anti-bribery laws”.

India’s Enforcement Directorate is also investigating Bharti Wal-Mart Pvt Ltd (Bharti Enterprises and Wal-Mart Stores) for alleged violations of FDI rules.

More suggested reading in to Wal-Mart bribery scandal: