House Democrats claim Wal-Mart CEO knew of bribery allegations

House Democrats on Thursday pressed their probe into allegations Wal-Mart bribed Mexican officials to expand south of the border, releasing emails they said suggested the company lied about when it first learned of the corruption claims.

The top Democrats on the House Oversight and Energy and Commerce committees launched their probe in April following a New York Times report detailing the corruption allegations. 

Wal-Mart has since said that its executives in the United States were not immediately informed of the allegations when they first surfaced almost a decade ago, but the lawmakers say they've obtained internal corporate emails showing otherwise.

“These documents and emails call into question your company’s statement that '[n]one of the associates we have interviewed, including people responsible for real estate projects in Mexico during this time period, recall any mention of bribery allegations related to this store,’ ” Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke. “It would be a serious matter if the CEO of one of our nation’s largest companies failed to address allegations of a bribery scheme.”

Walmart however says the lawmakers have their timeline wrong. 

A spokeswoman for the company says Walmart stands by its earlier statement, which meant to convey that Walmart officials were not aware of the corruption allegations when protests first broke out against its stores in Mexico in 2004. The internal documents obtained by the lawmakers show Duke was made aware of the allegations by General Counsel Thomas Mars a year later, on Oct. 15, 2005.

"The letter from Congressmen Waxman and Cummings leaves the wrong impression that our public statements are contradicted by the information they released today," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan. "The fact is, the chronology of events relied upon in their letter is inaccurate. The company statement referenced in their letter that appeared in the December, 2012 New York Times story focused on events in 2004. The emails attached to the letter were sent almost a year later.”

The emails document that the company's Mexican subsidiary paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to both federal and local Mexican officials to approve Wal-Mart stores, notably near the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacán. The emails identify Graco Ramirez, a former congressman with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, who is now governor of the south-central state of Morelos, as “the main contact person to negotiate such contribution on the part of the government.”

Wal-Mart dismissed the latest batch of emails, saying they provided no new details and insisting the company was cooperating with Congress and federal agencies investigating the claims.

“There is no new information in the letter released today by Congressman Waxman and Congressman Cummings. This information has been part of the company’s ongoing investigation of potential violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for more than a year and has been the subject of two New York Times articles,” Buchanan said. “We have provided extensive documentation to the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, including the documents released today, as part of our ongoing cooperation with the appropriate law enforcement agencies on this matter.

“We want to provide members of Congress with whatever appropriate information we can to help them and we have already provided committee staff with multiple briefings. We are exploring ways to make additional information available and are committed to doing whatever we can to appropriately address their requests, consistent with maintaining the integrity of the ongoing federal investigation,” Buchanan added. “We are committed to having a strong and effective global anti-corruption program everywhere we operate and taking appropriate action for any instance of non-compliance.”

This post was updated at 2:15 p.m. with comment from Walmart