Wal-Mart says it is conducting an "extensive investigation" into its compliance with a federal law that prohibits American companies from bribing foreign officials.
The statement came in response to a New York Times article published online Saturday alleging that top executives in Wal-Mart Mexican division attempted to conceal a widespread bribery scheme from the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.The Times story alleges that executives at Wal-Mart headquarters -- including former CEO H. Lee Scott -- were more concerned with damage control from the matter than with correcting the situation.
The allegations date back to 2005, when a former Wal-Mart de Mexico executive supposedly e-mailed one of Wal-Mart's senior lawyers, spelling out how the company had paid more than $24 million in bribes to secure construction permits throughout Mexico.
The Times said its investigation included 15 hours of interviews with former Wal-Mart executive Sergio Cicero Zapata, who said he had personally facilitated many of the alleged payoffs, which bought zoning approvals and cleared bureaucratic hurdles.
According to the Times, Wal-Mart acted on the information by swiftly conducting its own investigation -- and then just as swiftly moving to conceal it from U.S. and Mexican authorities.
"We are working hard to understand what occurred in Bentonville more than six years ago and are committed to conducting a complete investigation before forming conclusions," said David Tovar, Wal-Mart's vice president of corporate communications.
He added that Wal-Mart has already met with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and that it disclosed the investigation to shareholders in a regulatory filing in December.