Nearly four months after the Wal-Mart Mexican bribery case landed on the retailer's plate like a PR hot tamale, two leading members of U.S. Congressional oversight committees say the company has given them absolutely nada. Even worse, lawmakers now charge that Wal-Mart's own documents suggest that the company may have been involved in tax evasion and money laundering as well as bribery.
In a sharply spiced letter sent August 14 to Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke, Congressmen Henry Waxman and Elijah Cummings, the ranking House members on the Energy & Commerce and Oversight and Government Reform Committees, respectively, told Duke,
You have failed to provide the documents we requested, and you continue to deny us access to key witnesses. Your actions are preventing us from assessing the thoroughness of your internal investigation and from identifying potential remedial actions.
Waxman and Cummings charge that the retailer's potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act may stretch far beyond Mexico, and could be "global in nature." Wal-Mart reportedly has been looking at its own anti-corruption practices in five other countries outside of Mexico.
On April 21st, shortly after the New York Times broke the bribery story, Wal-Mart issued a statement in English and Spanish saying that its Board of Directors has been conducting its own "extensive investigation" for months, using outside legal counsel and forensic accountants. The retailer claimed these experts were "reporting regularly" to the Board -- yet Congressman Waxman and Cummings say they have seen nada.
"To date, however," the lawmakers told Duke,
you have not produced a single document we have requested. You have refused to provide Committee staff with copies of any internal reports or specific information about the findings and recommendations of your worldwide assessment... you have not allowed us to speak to any Wal-Mart employees responsible for compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
At its Annual Meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., last June, Board Chairman Rob Walton told shareholders, "Acting with integrity is not negotiable. You have my word. We will act the right way." A few minutes later, Mike Duke asserted, "There's no gray area between right and wrong. It's either the right thing to do, or we shouldn't do it."
Apparently Wal-Mart has decided that talking to Congressional investigators is not the right thing to do.
Yet in their April 21 statement, Wal-Mart boasted: "We have met voluntarily with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to self-disclose the ongoing investigation on this matter." The company promised to "continue to meet" with the DOJ and SEC "to report on the progress of the investigation."
So where's that "self-disclosure" now?
Waxman and Cummings have warned Wal-Mart that their August 14 letter is "a final opportunity to respond" to their requests before the lawmakers release their own investigative report and make public the documents they have obtained to date as part of their Congressional investigation.
Wal-Mart now has until August 28 to become transparent. For a company that says it has no gray areas, Wal-Mart remains a remarkably opaque company. Only a business with something to hide would stone-Wal Congress this way.