Govt agrees to probe if Walmart paid bribe

Tags: News

US firm spent $25m on lobbying for retail FDI

The government will probe if Walmart gave bribes in India to gain entry. Reports that the US retail giant in a filing in its home country declared that it spent $25 million on lobbying have not mentioned if part of this money was spent in India to give bribes.

A sitting or retired Supreme Court judge may be asked to conduct the probe. The probe decision was announced by parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, after an uproar in both Houses, which suffered several adjournments and heard noisy demands that included probe by a joint parliamentary committee.

Walmart already has a joint venture with the Bharti group for a cash-carry business. It is known that it wants to enter the retail business too in India.

Nath said the government was not averse to a probe on alleged bribes paid by Walmart in India to gain entry.

Most opposition leaders linked last week’s vote on the decision to allow FDI in multibrand retail to money allegedly paid to Indian officials during July-September. The government got Parliament’s approval of the decision last week.

The disclosures filed by Walmart with the US Senate said the company spent close to $25 million (about Rs 125 crore) since 2008 on various lobbying activities, including on ensuring “enhanced market access for investment in India.”

The Senate is probing Walmart for possible breaches of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — a US anti-bribery law — in India and Mexico, among other places.

“We have no hesitation in having an inquiry to get to the facts of the matter. We will announce further steps in the House. The government views the reports (on Walmart) with utmost concern,” Nath said.

The government is yet to spell out the nature of investigation, though indications are that it will not agree to a joint parliamentary committee (JPC).

Instead, it will go for an investigation by a judicial person in a time-bound manner.

BJP and the Left parties have demanded a judicial probe. But Trinamool Congress, JD(U) and BJD want a JPC.

This was the second day Parliament was disrupted on the Walmart lobby issue. The Rajya Sabha also was not allowed to function with the opposition forcing at least three adjournments.

Walmart’s joint venture in India, Bharti Walmart, denied any wrong-doing or having given any bribe in India.

A Bharti Walmart spokesperson told Financial Chronicle: “These allegations are entirely false. In accordance with the US law, companies are required to disclose issues and expenditures associated with lobbying on a quarterly basis.”

The company added, “The expenditures are a compilation of expenses associated with US federal lobbying contacts and include staffing cost, association dues and payments made to consultants, all in the US. Our Washington office naturally had discussions with US government officials about a range of trade and investment issues that impact our businesses in the US and worldwide and disclosed this in accordance with the law.”

(with inputs from Meghna Maiti in Mumbai)

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