Walmart faces federal criminal probe tied to allegations of bribery in Mexico

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The Justice Department has been conducting a criminal probe of Wal-Mart for allegations of systematic briberyin Mexico, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The investigation was launched in December after Wal-Mart met voluntarily with Justice Department officials, revealing it was looking into whether its Wal-Mart de Mexico unit had bribed foreign officials to gain business. Wal-Mart said this weekend that it has also met with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The allegations were brought to light by the New York Times on Saturday.

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act bans companies from paying foreign officials to get more business. The law has recently been targeted by lobbyists — including an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with ties to Wal-Mart — who criticize it as too broad and bad for business.

The Times investigation found that Wal-Mart de Mexico paid more than $24 million in bribes to win construction permits. When a whistleblower alerted top Wal-Mart executives in 2005, they launched an investigation that found evidence of the bribery but then shut down the inquiry. The company failed to report any of the information to law enforcement at the time, the Times story said.

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