WASHINGTON — Two senior US congressmen launched an investigation into giant retailer Wal-Mart Monday over allegations it paid millions of dollars in bribes to build up its operations in Mexico.
Democratic Representatives Henry Waxman and Elijah Cummings said they had requested a meeting with company officials in person this week to discuss allegations of the bribery reported by The New York Times on Saturday.
In a letter to Wal-Mart chief executive Michael Duke, Waxman and Cummings said the Times report "raises serious questions about potential violations of United States law, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."
"It also raises significant questions about the actions of top company officials in the United States who reportedly tried to disregard substantial evidence of abuse."
The Times report said the company knew of and covered up internal documents showing that its Mexican arm had paid $24 million in bribes to officials as it built a huge retail presence in the country.
Responding to the newspaper report, on Saturday an official of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said it was probing the allegations.
"If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for. We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened," said David Tovar, vice president of corporate communications.
But he downplayed the story, adding that "many of the alleged activities in The New York Times article are more than six years old."
The Times story said officials at Wal-Mart's headquarters in Arkansas knew of the problem in 2005, and sent an investigator to find out more.
But when the investigator urged a broader probe, Wal-Mart's leaders shut it down, the Times said, and made no effort to alert either US or Mexican authorities to the matter.
Meanwhile top Wal-Mart de Mexico executive Eduardo Castro-Wright, allegedly a leader of the bribery campaign, was elevated to vice chairman of Wal-Mart in 2008, the paper noted.
Tovar insisted that the company had been open with US authorities on the case.
"We have met voluntarily with the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to self-disclose the ongoing investigation on this matter," he said.