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Wal-Mart Executives Unlikely To Be Charged Over Alleged Bribes In Mexico, Report Says

The Wall Street Journal says federal investigators have turned up little to support the argument that Wal-Mart engaged in major bribery as it expanded in Mexico.

The New York Times' 2012 account of how the corporate retail behemoth may have paid more than $24 million in bribes in Mexico as it expanded its presence in the country had an immediate impact. Wal-Mart's shares fell around 5 percent, which amounted to approximately $10 billion. The Department of Justice launched a probe into whether the company had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And the two lead reporters on the story — David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic von Bertab — were awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

But, according to the Wall Street Journal, the federal government's three-year probe into the company's practices in Mexico "uncovered evidence that contradicted some of the allegations in the New York Times articles." It further stated that the case could be resolved "with a fine and no criminal charges leveled against individual Wal-Mart executives."

A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. The Times furnished this statement from Matt Purdy, deputy executive editor, to NPR about the Journal's report:

"Our stories were largely based on internal Walmart documents that described hundreds of suspect payments involving millions of dollars. One of those documents, written by Walmart's own investigators, concluded that there was 'reasonable suspicion' to believe Walmart de Mexico repeatedly violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. To this day, Walmart has not taken issue with the articles we published. Instead, the company says it has spent tens of millions of dollars to improve its compliance with anti-corruption laws and it has removed several key executives involved in the matter."

According to the Journal, in the course of the federal investigation, investigators found evidence of Wal-Mart employees' paying bribes in India, although largely in smaller denominations: "The vast majority of the suspicious payments were less than $200, and some were as low as $5." The article went on to say sources forecast that this would not result in any sizable penalty for the company.

Randy Hardgrove, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said that while he couldn't comment specifically on the government's investigation, "as we have said from the beginning, we are cooperating fully. Compliance with FCPA is and will always be a key priority for us."

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Alexandra Starr