Global retail giant Walmart has agreed to pay $283 million to settle a federal investigation into bribes paid the company in several countries. The company has pleaded guilty to paying bribes for its operations in Brazil, China, Mexico and India in the years 2000 and 2001. An order issued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission said that the Walmart subsidiaries in those countries didn’t have sufficient anti-corruption oversight.
According to SEC, the company allowed its subsidiaries to make payments to government officials without ensuring that those payments were not bribes. Moreover, when the company came to know about the bribery, they didn’t investigate the matter sufficiently, the SEC report said. The commission charged Walmart under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits companies from paying bribes to foreign officials. An official of the SEC said that Walmart gave priority to business growth over the compliance of laws, many of which could have been avoided.
In 2015, the Wall Street Journal had reported that federal investigators had found evidence of bribery in India by Walmart. Although this practice was widespread, it was spread over relatively small payments to huge numbers of local officials.
“The vast majority of the suspicious payments were less than $200 (about Rs 13,000, at the current exchange rate), while some were as low as $5. But when added together, these totalled millions of dollars,” the report had said. Bribes were paid to local level officials of various departments to secure permissions and approvals to open new locations, and also for the movement of goods. The bribers were mostly paid by third parties and middlemen, but the Company turned a blind eye to it despite being aware of the same.
The questionable payments made in India were often recorded on the company’s books with vague descriptions like “professional fees” and “incidental.”
The malpractices in India, Brazil and China were detected when the investigators were probing suspicious payments made to officials in Mexico by Walmart, which was tried to be kept hidden from the top executives of the company.
Wallmart runs 24 Best Price Modern Wholesale branded stores in India at present. These stores operate in cash and carry wholesale format. As foreign companies are not allowed to operate multi-brand retail stores in India yet, they don’t run any retail store in the country.