MEXICO CITY — Liverpool is starting 2015 on an odd note. Mexico’s largest department-store chain was recently hacked and is facing an investigation over an employee’s death during Mexico’s Black Friday, or Buen Fin, sales weekend.
In a Christmas Eve statement, the firm said employee e-mail accounts and some customer information were hacked “in a bribery attempt to damage our reputation.” The breach, which the company has reported to Mexican authorities, was of “low risk,” it added. Liverpool is “taking measures to ensure customer data remains protected by strengthening its systems, practices and procedures.”
Investor relations representative Rafael Vega told WWD the chain could not comment further, noting many top executives are on break for the holidays.
Mexican consumer organizations and the media have blasted the publicly listed retailer for lack of transparency.
“We want answers, Liverpool,” wrote Formato Siete, a news and opinion Web site in Veracruz, adding that the statement was too vague and omitted key information of public and stock-market interest. “It’s your opportunity and your obligation.”
The Web site added, “This is a security breach for a chain that is the third-largest credit-card issuer in Mexico, with more than 3.5 million accounts.”
The 100-store Liverpool is also under investigation for hiring a doctor who allegedly lied about the causes of an employee’s Nov. 16 death (as well as attempted to hide the incident altogether) in the middle of the crucial four-day Buen Fin weekend, which began on Nov. 14.
The Procuraduría General de Justicia del Distrito Federal, the attorney general of Mexico City, is probing the case, which has triggered large demonstrations outside the retailer’s Perisur store in the southern strip of Mexico’s capital, where Angélica Trinidad Romero Severiano was murdered by her boyfriend, Marco Antonio Ochoa, in a “passion crime.”
Soon after the incident, Liverpool hired a doctor, Mariano Espinosa, who said the woman, a store cleaner, died of a heart attack. But a subsequent autopsy showed she perished from strangulation.
“Obviously, there is a crime here,” PGJDF case leader Oscar Montes de Oca told news site CNNExpansión.com. “There is a contradiction with what the necropsy shows.”
Lurdes Barboza, a lawyer for women’s rights group Mujeres en Frecuencia, is demanding authorities fine Liverpool for “falsifying the facts” surrounding the crime. “We want the [PGJDF] to find the store responsible,” she told WWD. “[PGJDF is] only limiting the investigation to the perpetrator of the crime. [Liverpool has] violated the law in hiding this crime in a country where feminicide rates are very high.”
Barboza claimed Liverpool failed to inform authorities immediately about the homicide; instead, it chose to hire a doctor to lie about the cause, send the body to the funeral home and then inform family members, telling them, “We’ve taken care of all the costs. You don’t have to worry about anything.”
A few hours “before [the Sunday of] the Buen Fin, the store decides to hire a doctor; the doctor lies, saying the death was a heart attack; they send the body to the funerary, and then the family notices the woman has bruises under her makeup. The family then goes to the authorities,” Barboza noted.
“This is a crime,” she charged, adding that Liverpool did not immediately inform the PGJDF because such an act would have prompted the store’s closure and ruined its Buen Fin sales. “We want Liverpool sanctioned as well as everyone involved in the crime. If Liverpool does not come clean, Mujeres en Frecuencia will hold more demonstrations and boycott the retailer through social-media campaigns,” Barboza said.
Liverpool insists it immediately informed authorities about the incident. “We are profoundly sorry to lose our team member Angélica Trinidad Romero, who died November 16 in our Perisur store, a situation which authorities knew of immediately,” the chain said.
But PGJDF has reiterated that the agency learned about the issue only after family members approached it.
A Liverpool spokeswoman said the company had no comment beyond the statement but that it is cooperating with the authorities.