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Wal-Mart Faces Bribe Reports

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart Stores here last week said it has created a new position at the company to oversee compliance with U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, following allegations in an extensive New York Times article that the company breached the law during its rapid expansion in Mexico several years ago.

The FCPA prohibits bribes of foreign officials, among other practices.

Eduardo Castro-Wright, who led Wal-Mart’s Mexico operations until early 2005 and later ran the company’s U.S. division, was the “driving force” behind “years of bribery” in which more than $24 million was paid to local officials in Mexico, the article claimed.

In a series of responses, Wal-Mart said it was “deeply concerned” about the allegations and that it had launched an investigation.

“We take compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act very seriously and are committed to having a strong and effective global anti-corruption program in every country in which we operate,” said David Tovar, vice president of corporate communications, Wal-Mart, in a statement provided to SN. “We will not tolerate noncompliance with FCPA anywhere or at any level of the company.

“Many of the alleged activities in The New York Times article are more than six years old. If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for.”

Wal-Mart had yet to name someone to fill the new global FCPA compliance officer position as of late last week. The person will have responsibility for compliance with the FCPA in all of Wal-Mart’s markets around the world and will oversee five FCPA compliance directors based in the international markets.

The company warned about an internal investigation into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Dec. 8, 2011, but did not specify what countries it was investigating.

Reports last week indicated that the investigations could involve some of the Wal-Mart executives who were in place at that time (before 2005). Some of the other executives cited in the Wal-Mart article as being aware of the practices in Mexico included Craig Herkert, who was chief executive officer of Wal-Mart in Latin America and is currently CEO of Supervalu; Michael Duke, who was CEO of Walmart International and is currently CEO of Wal-Mart Stores; and H. Lee Scott, who was CEO at the time and remains on the company’s board.