Wal-Mart Has a Justice Department Probe on Its Hands

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Well this sounds familiar: The New York Times publishes a damaging story on a (arguably) well-loved and (not arguably) successful brand, their public reputation wanes, and then the investigations surface. Multiple unnamed sources at Wal-Mart have told Bloomberg and The Washington Post that the company is being investigated by the Justice Department and has been since December.  The Washington Post's Sari Horwitz and Jia Lynn Yang report that Wal-Mart has also met with the SEC over this weekend. 

Even though the investigation has been going on since December, it was largely kept under wraps until The New York Times story this weekend blew the lid open (Apple and Goldman Sachs can relate) and discovered that Wal-Mart de Mexico had paid more than $24 million in bribes in construction permits in the country. Though the Times reported the misgivings and bribes on Sunday, it appears they actually took place in 2005--which means, this December's probe was, well, seriously lagging behind.

So what can we expect?  "The investigations by the government and the company may prompt executive departures and U.S. penalties if it reveals senior managers didn’t take strong enough action," write the team at Bloomberg, which consulted with governance specialists. "The probes also may slow Wal-Mart’s expansion in Mexico and other markets."  An expert told Bloomberg: "The penalties paid by companies in settling these types of FCPA investigations have grown significantly larger in recent years ... Depending on the facts uncovered, companies like Wal-Mart can expect the penalties to be incredibly high."

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Where Wal-Mart is already paying for it seems to be in stock. Yesterday, the company saw its stock drop around five percent

Update (1:32 p.m. EDT): Wal-Mart has issued a response to The New York Times story, quoting David Tovar, its vice president of corporate communications: "Walmart has been working diligently on U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance and has a rigorous process in place to quickly and aggressively manage issues like this when they arise." Tovar pointed out that The Times' story was  based on six-year-old corporate decisions and that "six months ago, we launched an aggressive investigation under the auspices and supervision of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors into the issues contained in the article."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.