Walmart to pay more than $282M to settle bribery charges

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Thursday announced that retail giant Walmart has agreed to pay about $282 million to settle bribery charges.

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The retailer will pay more than $144 million to the SEC, and $138 million to the U.S. Department of Justice to settle similar allegations related to its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The FCPA prohibits companies with operations abroad from bribing foreign officials.

According to the filing, the SEC’s investigation concluded that Walmart allegedly allowed subsidiaries in Brazil, China, India and Mexico to employ third-party intermediaries who paid foreign government officials – without evidence that they implemented proper compliance and training to assure practices met FCPA standards. Prosecutors claimed bribes were made in order to hasten store openings – through things like zoning approvals.

The charges spanned more than a decade.

“Walmart valued international growth and cost-cutting over compliance,” Charles Cain, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit, said in a statement. “The company could have avoided many of these problems, but instead Walmart repeatedly failed to take red flags seriously and delayed the implementation of appropriate internal accounting controls.”

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The Department of Justice claims related to alleged violations of U.S. bribery laws at Walmart’s Brazilian branch. Walmart Brasilia pleaded guilty to a single violation of failing to keep accurate records. Those charges stemmed from payments made to a third-party known as the “sorceress” for his or her ability to get building permits quickly, according to The New York Times.

A spokesperson for Walmart said the company had accrued enough funds to settle the resolution, which will not materially impact its financial results.

“We’re pleased to resolve this matter,” Walmart president and CEO, Doug McMillon, said in a statement. “Walmart is committed to doing business the right way, and that means acting ethically everywhere we operate. We’ve enhanced our policies, procedures and systems and invested tremendous resources globally into ethics and compliance, and now have a strong Global Anti-Corruption Compliance Program. We want to be the most trusted retailer, and a key to this is maintaining our culture of integrity."