Wal-mart expands foreign bribery investigation
Wal-Mart disclosed Thursday that it has expanded an internal investigation into bribery accusations in Mexico to Brazil, China, and India.
The company acknowledged the expanded inquiry in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that accompanied its third-quarter financial results, which showed lower sales than analysts had expected.
Wal-Mart had previously reported that the audit committee of its board was examining possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Mexico.
“Inquiries or investigations regarding allegations of potential FCPA violations have been commenced in a number of foreign markets where we operate, including but not limited to Brazil, China and India,” the company said in its regulatory filing.
Wal-Mart’s shares ended the day at $68.72, down $2.59, or 3.6 percent.
The New York Times reported in April that seven years ago, Wal-Mart had found credible evidence that its Mexican subsidiary had paid bribes, a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and that an internal investigation into the matter had been suppressed by executives at the company’s Arkansas headquarters.
The company has had teams of lawyers looking into the Mexico issue and potential violations of the law elsewhere. In the filing, the company said it had “identified or been made aware of” other potential violations.
“When such allegations are reported or identified, the Audit Committee and the company, together with their third party advisers, conduct inquiries and when warranted based on those inquiries, open investigations,” it said.
Wal-Mart suggested in May that the investigation had broadened, but Thursday’s filing with the SEC was the first time it has specified the other countries it is looking into.
The SEC and the Justice Department have opened investigations into the Mexico matter, and Wal-Mart said it is cooperating with them. Charles M. Holley Jr., Wal-Mart’s chief financial officer, declined to comment Thursday on whether the agencies are looking into countries other than Mexico.
“As you would expect with these matters, because they’re under review, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on specific matters until the investigation is concluded,” he said.
The company spent $99 million in the first nine months of the year in expenses related to the matter, like complying with subpoenas, defending itself against shareholder lawsuits and conducting the review.
In recorded statements, Wal-Mart executives indicated even middle-income consumers were under increasing pressure. At the company’s Sam’s Club division, a warehouse club that attracts a higher-income shopper than Wal-Mart stores, shoppers are starting to swap out steak for pork, for instance, because it is cheaper.