Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is said to have paid bribes worth millions of dollars in India, a report by The Wall Street Journal has said. It added Walmart’s alleged bribery in India involved thousands of small payments to low-level local officials to help move goods through customs or secure real estate approvals.
“The vast majority of the suspicious payments were less than $200 (about Rs 13,000, at the current exchange rate), while some were as low as $5. But when added together, these totalled millions of dollars,” report said.
Walmart India operates 20 Best Price modern wholesale stores across nine states. The company is also launching business-to-business online ventures. In 2013, Walmart had shelved plans to open retail stores, severing a joint venture with Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises.
Walmart, which was pushing the United Progressive Alliance regime to allow foreign supermarket chains into the country, was also involved in lobbying in the US Congress over this, Congressional disclosure reports have said.
According to The Wall Street Journal report, the alleged bribery by Walmart is unlikely to lead to any penalty on its Indian operations, as these didn’t yield profit under the provisions of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). “Because penalties are often connected to the amount of profit the alleged misconduct generated, the payments in India aren’t likely to result in any sizeable penalty. Walmart’s operations there have not been particularly profitable, said people familiar with the matter,” the report said.
There was no immediate response on the newspaper report from Walmart's corporate headquarters.
A mail seeking comment from a Walmart India spokesperson did not elicit a response.
The Wall Street Journal said federal investigators found evidence of bribery in India, centring on widespread but relatively small payments to local officials, during the course of its probe into allegations of widespread corruption at Walmart’s operations in Mexico. The investigations, however, found little in terms of major offences in Mexico and these were likely to result in a much smaller case than initially expected, the report said.
Walmart has conducted an internal investigation into violations of the FCPA in Mexico, India, Brazil and China. The Indian arm had suspended its chief financial officer, Pankaj Madan, as well as members of its legal team.
The retailer was also investigated by the Enforcement Directorate over an alleged $100-million investment in a Bharti group company, in violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act.
Walmart has disclosed to the US Senate its lobbying activities to gain access to key markets, including India. An inquiry by former judge Mukul Mudgal was, however, closed due to inadequate information.
In 2013, Raj Jain quit as Walmart India’s chief executive officer. Senior vice-president Ramnik Narsey was made interim chief executive. In December 2013, Krish Iyer was named chief executive.