India launches probe into Wal-Mart lobbying report
NEW DELHI Dec 12 (Reuters) - India's government announced an inquiry into lobbying practices by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Wednesday after a report that the giant retailer had pressed U.S. lawmakers to help gain access to foreign markets.
Wal-Mart disclosed in a report to the U.S. Senate that it had paid $25 million over four years to lobby American lawmakers to help gain access to overseas markets, including India.
The report spurred opposition lawmakers, who oppose Wal-Mart's entry into India, to call for an inquiry into whether any money was spent in India, even though the disclosure filing only referred to lobbying activities in the United States.
"The government has decided to have a probe by a retired judge into the media reports pertaining to Wal-Mart's lobbying," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told parliament.
Government officials have said privately there is nothing to investigate since Wal-Mart's lobbying activities in the United States were not illegal.
Wal-Mart has said allegations it had lobbied in India were "entirely false".
The government wants to resolve the matter as quickly as possible so that parliament can pass important financial bills before the winter session ends on Dec. 20.
Wal-Mart has found itself entangled in a fight between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's fragile minority government and political opponents determined to thwart supermarket reform which, they say, will destroy the livelihoods of millions of small store owners.
Opposition parties have sought to portray Singh's government as the pawn of powerful foreign companies ahead of national elections due in 2014.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart has been the most active among foreign supermarket operators keen to push their way into India's $450 billion retail market.