Walmart vows to fix controls after scandal

April 25, 2012 at 3:00 AM
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BENTONVILLE, Ark., April 25 (UPI) -- Walmart Stores Inc. said it had beefed up internal controls to ensure it obeyed laws banning U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials to secure business.

At the same time company Vice Chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright, who oversaw Walmart's Mexico business when the subsidiary allegedly paid more than $24 million in bribes to speed permits for new-store openings, resigned from the MetLife Inc. board Tuesday for what the insurer described as "personal reasons."

Castro-Wright, who has not spoken publicly since The New York Times published the bribery allegations Sunday, said in a letter to MetLife Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Steven Kandarian he was resigning due to "recent events that will require my immediate and personal attention."

He said he would spend "personal time with my family" and focus on "protecting my good name and business reputation."

MetLife declined further comment.

Concerning its new zero tolerance for violation of anti-bribery laws, Walmart said Tuesday it created a global compliance officer position to ensure the retailer complied with the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars U.S. companies from paying bribes in other countries.

The compliance official will oversee five regional compliance directors around the world, Walmart said.

In addition, the world's largest retailer said it added new "escalation and review protocols" at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters to ensure allegations of wrongdoing are rigorously examined.

In Mexico, the retailer said it has bolstered its training, auditing and internal controls to ensure compliance with laws against bribery.

"We will not tolerate non-compliance" with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act "anywhere or at any level of the company," spokesman David Tovar said in a statement.

The Times reported Walmart internal investigators found credible evidence Walmart de Mexico SAB de CV had paid the bribes to help advance its expansion against fierce competition.

Told of this in 2005, top executives in Bentonville shut down the internal investigation, the Times reported.

Tovar was quoted by the Times Wednesday as saying: "We believe it's also important to keep a few things in context: The allegations in the New York Times story about the decisions made in Bentonville are more than 6 years old."

In addition, Walmart began its own investigation six months ago and was cooperating with law-enforcement authorities, he said.

Walmart's stock price fell 3 percent Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange after plunging nearly 5 percent Monday. It has lost some $15 billion in market value this week.

Shares of Walmart de Mexico, which trades separately on the Mexican Stock Exchange, fell 4 percent Tuesday after a 12 percent plunge Monday.

While Walmart said it sought full compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it also participated in an aggressive and high-priced lobbying campaign to water down the law, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

A top Walmart executive was part of a little-known but well-funded U.S. Chamber of Commerce arm that lobbied to amend the law, which the chamber said was too broad and bad for business.

No evidence exists to suggest Walmart's participation in the chamber's efforts were directly related to its alleged bribery in Mexico, the Post said.

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