WHAT OTHERS SAY: Report from Mexico brings questions about Walmart's ethics

Friday, April 27, 2012 | 12:56 p.m. CDT; updated 8:33 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 28, 2012

Retail giant Walmart has fallen from the high ground with revelations that it might have violated U.S. and Mexican laws in its zeal to expand its empire south of the border.

Its market value has sunk by more than $10 billion, and its reputation has been tarnished significantly by allegations that some of its top executives were well aware that the company was paying millions of dollars in bribes to expedite the opening of new stores in Mexico.

The New York Times reported that Walmart had sent investigators down to Mexico City to look into the allegations after they arose in 2005 — and found evidence of suspicious payments and potential wrongdoing on a large scale — but shut down the probe without alerting authorities.

Walmart said it has appointed a global officer to ensure compliance with a 1977 U.S. law that prohibits bribes to foreign officials. The company also has insisted that its investigation into the Mexico scandal is continuing. The U.S. Justice Department is also said to be investigating possible criminal misconduct in connection with the case.

The revelations have promoted little shock or outrage in Mexico, where payoffs to government officials — from traffic stops to City Hall — are perceived as commonplace. But this scandal raises unsettling questions about the corporate culture in Bentonville, Ark., where global citizenry and ethics were supposed to be as much a part of the Walmart brand as cut-rate prices.

Copyright San Francisco Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.

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