Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has been accused over the years of everything from stripping employees of basic benefits to seeking to destroy critical historical areas. Now, however, the company faces a criminal investigation and a call for a U.S. congressional investigation. The company is accused of giving millions in bribes to Mexican officials to build stores. The company is accused failing to notify the police after it uncovered the bribes in an internal investigation.
Wal-Mart is accused of shutting down its own internal probe after its lead investigator told them of the criminal conduct. Senior executives at Wal-Mart were informed in 2005, when a former executive of its largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico, came forward with evidence of the bribery campaign. The executive — a lawyer — sent emails and tried follow up conversations to address the pattern of bribes to secure permits.
Here is a remarkable fact. Wal-Mart is now the country’s largest private employer with 209,000 employees and one of every five stores now is in that country.
Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar insisted “If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for. We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.” The problem is that the company is accused of shutting down the internal investigation and failing to reveal the evidence of bribery. Top executives were reportedly aware and are implicated in the scandal. Indeed, then-CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. reportedly rebuked internal investigators at one meeting for being overly aggressive.
This is the type of criminal case that can cause extensive damage to a corporation, much like the News Corp surveillance scandal. The notoriously cheap company will now find itself in the position of having to pay for individual counsel for executives to avoid conflicts of interest and spend millions in responding to U.S and Mexican investigators.