Wal-Mart: No tie between lobbyists and bribery case

Wed Apr 25, 2012 9:22pm EDT
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By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc pushed back on Wednesday against suggestions that its lobbyists tried to scale back a U.S. anti-bribery law while the company was aware it may have violated the law.

The company said it "never lobbied on" possible changes to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the law that makes it a crime for U.S. companies to pay bribes overseas.

Wal-Mart played down its presence on the boards of lobbying organizations that are critical of how the anti-bribery law is enforced. Businesses have increasingly agitated against the law in recent years, saying it is vague.

"Simply because Wal-Mart is a member of an organization does not mean we agree with every position they take," spokesman David Tovar said.

The statement was issued as a split emerged among lawmakers on whether they should probe Wal-Mart for how it juggled the criminal and political dimensions of allegations that its Mexico unit paid bribes in violation of the law. Prosecutors are investigating the alleged bribes.

Authorities in Mexico said on Wednesday they would open an investigation into allegations that Wal-Mart's Mexican unit, Walmex, bribed officials to expand its business. The federal comptroller's office said it had begun checking the paperwork and permits obtained to open and operate stores.

On the lobbying issue, Democratic Representative Henry Waxman said he was troubled by the company's ties.

"It would appear to be a conflict of interest for Wal-Mart officials to advise on ways to weaken the law at the same time as the company was aware of conduct that may have violated the law," Waxman said in an interview.   Continued...

A shopper carts her purchases from a Wal-Mart store in Mexico City, April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido