Allegations that Wal-Mart de México paid millions of dollars in bribes to Mexican officials, which surfaced in 2012, continue to haunt its parent, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., despite the fact that a long investigation into the matter by the U.S. government is said to have uncovered no serious offenses.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Hickey for the Western District of Arkansas has rejected Wal-Mart’s appeal in a lawsuit involving the Michigan pension fund. Wal-Mart had argued that the fund has no standing in the case because it hadn’t suffered losses as a result of the charges. The ruling paves the way for a class action lawsuit to advance. The case, City of Pontiac General Employees’ Retirement System v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. et al., names Mike Duke, the retailer’s former chief executive officer who presided over the company at the time of the alleged bribes.
“This was a procedural ruling that has nothing to do with the merits of the case,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman. “We continue to believe the claims here are not appropriate for certifying a class. We’re considering our options, including seeking an appeal.”
Wal-Mart de Mexico is said to have bribed Mexican officials to speed up the permitting and licensing process of opening and building stores, thus hastening the retailer’s expansion.
The market value of Wal-Mart declined by nearly 5 percent, or about $17 billion, in April 2012 after an article about the bribes appeared in The New York Times. Shareholders argue that the retailer knew about the practice of bribing Mexican officials as early as 2005. Congress in 2013 weighed in with a letter from Reps. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) and Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) to Duke claiming the ceo was informed of the bribery allegations in Mexico in 2005.
In addition to the Congressional probe, Wal-Mart was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Department of Justice over whether it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
In 2011, Wal-Mart began an internal investigation into possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other anticorruption laws at overseas operations, including Mexico, China, Brazil, South Africa and India.
The retailer has paid nearly $1 billion to investigate the charges and ratchet up training. Wal-Mart said it installed a number of additional steps around FCPA compliance, put in place compliance operations and established a new office of compliance.
Wal-Mart has been down the class-action road before and has taken appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court in April declined to hear the retailer’s appeal in the case of Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes Court, which challenged a $188 million class-action judgment in 2014 by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in favor of tens of thousands of employees who said they were forced by the retailer to work off-the-clock and not compensated.
But in another high-profile class action lawsuit, Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the million-plus women suing the retailer for wage discrimination. The court said the group didn’t qualify as “persons” under the Civil Rights Act.