‘Walmart affiliate used bribes to open 19 new stores in Mexico’

WalMart Stores Inc's Mexican affiliate routinely used bribes to open stores in desirable locations, according to a New York Times investigation published Monday, which cites 19 instances of the retail giant paying off local officials.

The Times first reported in April that Walmart had intentionally stifled an internal probe into bribery at its Mexican affiliate Walmex. Late last month, Mexico's anti-corruption body said it found no irregularities in the permits Walmart received in the country, but that two audits remain underway.

In the new report published on its web site, the Times detailed specific instances in which Walmex allegedly paid off officials to expand in Mexico. The alleged payoffs often related to zoning laws and environmental permits that would have otherwise prevented Walmex's opening of new stores.

Much of the report focused on a store built near ancient ruins in Teotihuacan, north of Mexico City. Walmex was hit by protests in 2004 after announcing plans to build a warehouse less than a mile from the city.

In a statement Monday night, Walmart spokesman David Tovar said the company was already looking into the allegations in the Times article regarding the permitting and licensing process for the Teotihuacan store, as part of a broader internal probe that Walmart began over a year ago into potential violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

"At this point, the investigation is still ongoing and we have not yet reached final conclusions," he said. Walmart is also cooperating with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the matter, Tovar said.

The US Justice Department, the SEC, US lawmakers and authorities in Mexico have all been conducting their own probes.

An official at Mexico's federal attorney general's office told Reuters that an initial probe had been opened following the Times' April story, but that prosecutors did not uncover sufficient evidence to file any charges. The probe closed "a couple months ago," the official said.

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