Society

Wal-Mart Exec Questioned In Bribery Case

| by Alex Scarr

A chief executive for Wal-Mart was summoned by a federal judge May 11 to testify in a lawsuit filed by shareholders over suspected bribery in Mexico.

Douglas McMillon has been asked to appear in a U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for his "direct and personal" involvement in matters concerning potential bribery in Wal-Mart's operations in Mexico, according to Reuters.

McMillon was president of Wal-Mart International at the time, which is accused of bribing Mexican government officials to speed up store openings in the country. The lawsuit was filed by a Michigan pension fund and shareholders of the company.

U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey, who ordered McMillion for questioning said that, since his tenure as chief executive of Wal-Mart International began in 2014, he had specific and intimate knowledge of the company's inner workings, citing meetings and "dozens of communications" about the alleged bribery.

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"It appears to the court that McMillon has unique knowledge of relevant issues in this litigation that only he can explain," Hickey wrote, adding that a deposition for McMillon could take four hours.

On May 9, Wal-Mart agreed to pay roughly $300 million to settle bribery allegations made by its employees in foreign markets, specifically India, China and Mexico, according to Bloomberg. The penalty, which is enforced by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, has yet to be finalized and remains subject to change.

The proposed settlement would require at least one guilty plea to be entered by a Wal-Mart subsidiary but the parent company itself will not be charged.

In Oct. 2016, Wal-Mart and the U.S. disagreed over the amount of the penalty, which was originally slated to be more than $600 million. The penalty would have been one of the largest in U.S. financial history and may have pressed Wal-Mart into settling quickly, according to Bloomberg.

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Investigators went back to gather more evidence and statements from those close to the situation, and rumors swirled that they may seek a penalty upwards of $1 billion. Many of the instances of bribery found in Mexico were too old to prosecute, and also involved small amounts paid to government officials rather than large-scale sums.

"As we’ve said from the beginning, we are cooperating fully with the government in this matter and have no further comment on that process," Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Hitt wrote at the time in an email Bloomberg. Wal-Mart did not issue a statement regarding McMillon or the impending settlement.

Wal-Mart shares rose less than 1 percent at market close May 9.

Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg (2) / Photo credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr

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