Wal-Mart names Karen Roberts new general counsel

Thu Dec 20, 2012 4:26pm EST

Dec 20 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which is facing bribery investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, named a new general counsel, Karen Roberts, effective Feb. 1, 2013.

Roberts replaces Jeff Gearhart, who now oversees the retail giant's legal functions as well as its newly expanded compliance department.

Roberts, 42, has been with Wal-Mart for 17 years and will be responsible for "all legal matters affecting the company in its domestic and international markets," the company said in a statement.

In October, Wal-Mart announced that the company's compliance, ethics, investigations and legal units would all report as of Dec. 1 to Gearhart, executive vice president and corporate secretary. At the same time, Wal-Mart named former Sidley Austin partner Jay Jorgensen to the newly-created position of global chief compliance officer.

The U.S. Justice Department and the SEC are looking into allegations of widespread bribery at Wal-Mart's Mexican affiliate, Walmex. The probes are seeking to determine whether Wal-Mart violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits bribes to foreign officials.

Roberts currently serves as president of Walmart Realty for Walmart U.S. She also previously oversaw compliance for the company's U.S. operations and has served as general counsel for U.S. real estate and construction.

On Monday, the New York Times published a report saying that the retailer opened some 19 stores in Mexico allegedly by using hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to achieve what local laws otherwise prohibited.

The report indicated that the alleged bribes were a substantial part of how Wal-Mart's Mexican affiliate conducted business, and not simply routine payments used to speed up approvals, which are allowed under U.S. law.

Because the alleged bribes appeared to be part of the affiliate's business methods, Wal-Mart could face sizable fines, experts said.

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