India launches probe into Wal-Mart lobbying report

NEW DELHI Wed Dec 12, 2012 6:42am EST

A view shows the Walmart logo at an opened Walmart store on Thanksgiving day in North Bergan, New Jersey November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

A view shows the Walmart logo at an opened Walmart store on Thanksgiving day in North Bergan, New Jersey November 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's government announced an inquiry into lobbying practices by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N) 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.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told parliament a retired judge would be appointed to lead an investigation "pertaining to Wal-Mart's lobbying".

No further details were available about the inquiry.

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 that a routine U.S. lobbying disclosure form reflects improper conduct on their part in India is false.

"This disclosure has nothing to do with political or governmental contacts with India government officials," said a Bharti Walmart spokesperson.

"It shows that our business interest in India was discussed with U.S. government officials along with 50 or more other topics during a three-month period."

All organizations which expend more than $11,500 annually on lobbying activities and employ at least one lobbyist must register and file the quarterly reports, the spokesperson added.

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 December 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.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Satarupa Bhattacharjya and Nigam Prusty; Editing by Ross Colvin and Jeremy Laurence)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
DeSwiss wrote:
Of course (Mexico) they’re not (Mexico) suggesting bribery? (Mexico) Are they? (Mexico) Why who (Mexico) would ever think (Mexico) that Wal-mart (Mexico) of all corporations (Mexico) would do ever think (Mexico) to do such a (Mexico) thing as (Mexico) bribery of government (Mexico) officials? It’s crazy!

ATTENTION WALMART SHOPPERS: We have a blue-light special going on for the next hour — 35% off silver and gold handcuffs in the Notions and Security Department on aisle three. And remember: ”It’s always low at Wal-mart…..”

Dec 12, 2012 5:15am EST  --  Report as abuse
tmc wrote:
This is absurd. India is one of the most corrupted countries in the world when is comes to bribery. It is a common, everyday event at all levels of the Indian economy. Of course Wally world used bribery. You can’t do business there if you don’t. There are many organizations that provide global corporations with courses for both executive and operational management on how to handle local custom, like bribery, when entering a new market space. I think it is insulting that this and other recent articles on this site still pander to the ignorant and just shoot for better ratings than actually reporting the realities of what really going on.

Dec 12, 2012 7:24am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.