An alleged series of pay-for-permit bribes by Wal-Mart de Mexico totaling $24 million is currently the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation. The probe reportedly began in December when Wal-Mart voluntarily met with Justice Department officials and disclosed that it was examining whether its subsidiary in Mexico had bribed foreign officials to gain business.
Criminal charges could follow under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. According to the April 21 story by the New York Times, Wal-Mart’s unit in Mexico coordinated “a campaign of bribery to win market dominance” and did so by obtaining permits all over the country.
Wal-Mart’s VP of corporate communications David Tovar has tread lightly so far, and emphasized in a statement over the weekend that Wal-Mart met with U.S. officials voluntarily.
Whether or not that disclosure mitigates the misconduct in any way remains to be seen. Part of the problem is Wal-Mart’s alleged cover-up following a whistle-blower’s report about the bribes to executives in 2005. An internal investigator found evidence of bribery and “reasonable suspicion” of violations of U.S. and Mexican laws, but the findings were buried.