25 April 2012

Mexico in low-key reaction to Walmart scandal

Federal officials in Mexico are cool on the fraud allegations swirling around the alleged local activies of the global retail giant

Fighting corruption claims

In contrast to the US Department of Justice’s growing involvement in the alleged Walmart bribery scandal, the Mexican ministry of economy has moved to distance itself from the investigation, suggesting the issue is a state rather than federal matter.
According to a report by ALM’s Corporate Counsel web site, Mexican attorney general Marisela Morales has stated that she does not yet know whether her office will be handling the investigation -- which concerns $24 million in bribes paid between 2003 and 2005 to accelerate Walmart’s Mexican expansion plans.

Passive prosecutors

Jose Antonio Caballero – law professor at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City – said it is not uncommon for Mexico’s federal prosecutors to be passive in the face of public scandal.
The issue causing the ponderous approach is that the bribes appear to be for local construction and zoning permits – which are not federal territory.
If this is the case, then it would be the obligation of state-level prosecutors to conduct investigations, potentially causing a challenge in cross-jurisdiction co-ordination and transfer exchange.
‘I think that the biggest risk is that the whole investigation will be very uneven,’ said Mr Caballero. ‘Usually our prosecutors are not that great in co-operating among themselves with investigations.’

Political implications

National politics may also play a significant role in the investigation, with the presidency and 16 major state offices being elected on 1 July. Presidential candidates, including frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto, have already moved to make the Wal-Mart investigation – and corruption in general -- a central pillar of their campaigns.
However, any action will be taken with caution, suggests Mr Caballero, as the wide-spread nature of the alleged Wal-Mart bribes could mean that members of all three major political parties are implicated during an investigation.

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