Lobbying is not bribery, they are very separate: Ambassador Nancy Powell

Stressing that lobbying and bribery are two "very separate things", US ambassador to India Nancy J Powell said Tuesday that bribery is a serious crime in the US and that Walmart had incurred lobbying expenses in the US and not in India.

"What has happened is that accusations that this money was bribery. What it is, is lobbying. In the US, those are two very separate things," Powell said in an interview to The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta for NDTV's 'Walk the Talk' programme.

"Bribery of foreign officials...is a foreign corrupt practices act, it's a serious crime, and any allegations or investigations by the company, and Walmart has indicated that they are doing one, and the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission will look into that," she said.

"What played out yesterday is a totally separate issue, and this is a requirement that dates from 1995. Lobbying in the US is different, it is regulated, the effort is to make it transparent," the ambassador said. "We have organisations, companies, NGOs, associations, they put forward through lobbyists their ideas for legislation, for executive orders, for policy making, and this is recognised as part of our decision-making."

"We also recognise there were some abuses of it, enormous amounts of money have been spent on it, and starting with 1995 and with amended legislation in 2007, we now require lobbyists to register. They now tell us their names, whether it's a company or an individual, they tell us the issues that they are lobbying on, and they tell us how much money they have spent...it's a mandatory disclosure."

"Beyond that, it is looked at to see whether it is done correctly, and there are officials who deal with lobbyists, it is part of their job. There are certain limits as to what they can accept in the way of a lunch or any kind of a gift, those are some of the abuses, both on the government side and the company side," the US envoy said.

Lobbying expenses also include money spent on salaries, research and to make brochures that are given to policymakers, Powell added.

Asked if the $25 million shown by Walmart as lobbying expenses had not been spent in India, she said: "That is my understanding. I will defer to Walmart on the particulars of the case, but the requirement is what is spent in the US, it is done to make sure that. I think Walmart had something like 80 items, they were using the US $25 million for nine general categories...FDI in India was one of the 80 issues they would have approached the US government officials, policymakers on. This is not a disclosure on India."

Powell said there was a separate investigation about Walmart and its links to some bribery allegations. "Again, Walmart has itself identified that they might have issues in some countries, including India, and they are conducting their own investigation, our Department of Justice and the SEC will also take a look at it," she said.

"We have a very tough law, dates to 1970s, when bribes were paid to officials and foreign countries. We take this very seriously...it makes tough to compete with a number of people, but we think that it's good business, good for our customers, when they receive a bid, they know this is an actual bid, does not involve any payoffs, they will get the contracted goods and services without an extra bribe," the ambassador said.

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