October 19, 2015 / 1:36 AM / 3 years ago

Wal-Mart bribery probe finds few major offenses in Mexico: WSJ

The Wal-Mart company logo is seen outside a Wal-Mart Stores Inc company distribution center in Bentonville, Arkansas June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

(Reuters) - A federal probe into allegations of corruption at Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s (WMT.N) Mexico operations has found few major offenses, and is likely to result in a much smaller case than investigators expected, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the situation.

The three-year investigation is mostly complete and the case could be resolved with a fine and without any criminal charges, the newspaper said. (on.wsj.com/1GljEyS)

As part of the same probe, investigators found evidence of bribery in India, centering on widespread but relatively small payments made to local officials, the Journal said. Wal-Mart is likely to face U.S. foreign-bribery charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act over those payments, the newspaper said.

Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Hitt said the company was cooperating with the government on the matter. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the status of the investigation.

U.S. lawmakers launched an investigation after the New York Times reported in 2012 that Wal-Mart de Mexico (Walmex) had engaged in a multi-year campaign of bribery to build its business. (nyti.ms/1XdXjYe)

The NYT report said a senior Wal-Mart lawyer had received an email from a former Walmex executive in September 2005 describing how Wal-Mart de Mexico had paid bribes to obtain permits to build stores across the country.

According to the Times, Wal-Mart sent investigators to Mexico City and found a paper trail of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million. But the company’s top executives shut down the probe and did not notify U.S. or Mexican law enforcement officials until after the newspaper informed Wal-Mart that it was looking into the issue.

After the NYT report in April 2012, Wal-Mart had lost $10 billion of its market value on concerns that the bribery investigation in Mexico could be very costly and hinder its plans to grow. (reut.rs/1RQX6Y0)

In November 2012, Indian authorities were investigating claims that Wal-Mart violated foreign exchange rules when it invested $100 million in its Indian joint venture. Wal-Mart's Indian joint venture suspended its chief financial officer and other employees as part of its investigations. (reut.rs/1OD64d0)

Reporting By Jessica Toonkel in New York and Shivam Srivastava in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Anupama Dwivedi

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