In a game of free association, the word most commonly linked to Wal-Mart might well be “big:” big discounts; big stores, big presence. And today, add another: big bribes.
Two Democratic lawmakers, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Henry Waxman of California, are launching a Congressional investigation of Wal-Mart, following a report in the Sunday New York Times alleging that Wal-Mart’s rapid-fire expansion throughout Mexico was fueled by bribery. The money was allegedly paid to mayors, city planners, zoning officials, and “anyone with the power to thwart Wal-Mart’s growth,” the paper reported.
The Times reported that Wal-Mart had paid at least $24 million in bribes, and had taken steps to cover up the illegal payments. Upon first hearing of the allegations in 2005, Wal-Mart forwarded files on the investigation to its Mexico City office, the Times wrote, where the general counsel accused of making the payments was put in charge of the inquiry. He promptly exonerated the company, the paper reported.
Such payments violate both Mexican and American anti-bribery laws, and come at an especially inopportune time for Wal-Mart: it has spent millions to improve its image in recent years, most recently on a healthy eating campaign that won it a coveted place at a White House event to promote good nutrition.
Wal-Mart’s stock price plunged nearly 5 percent Monday, as investors worried about its potential liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The criminal campaign finance trial of John Edwards, the former presidential hopeful, opened in a North Carolina courtroom today, with prosecutors portraying Edwards as ambitious and deceitful, and his defense attorney urging jurors to “follow the money.”
Prosecutors say Edwards solicited illegal contributions from wealthy donors to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer and mother of his child, as Edwards’ wife Elizabeth battled the cancer that killed her in 2010.
But Edwards attorney Allison Van Laningham said the former senator’s campaign manager, Andrew Young, had solicited the donations and ultimately diverted much of the money to finance a lavish lifestyle for him and his wife. Edwards, Van Laningham said, knew nothing of the donations or their use.
“John Edwards is a man who has committed many sins but no crimes,” she told the courtroom.
Edwards is charged with six counts of conspiracy, taking illegal campaign contributions and making false statements. Each count carries a potential five year sentence and $250,000 fine.
Bo Xilai, the senior Chinese Communist Party official whose family sits at the heart of a sprawling corruption and murder investigation, had ties that extended all the way to Citigroup, where his eldest son, Li Wangzhi, landed a job.
The investigation has brought an unwelcome spotlight on the so-called princelings of China’s Communist Party officials, relatives of party officials who have amassed vast wealth in a country whose per capita income ranks 121st out of 215 countries, Bloomberg reports. The Bo family, it is estimated, has a fortune of at least $136 million, despite Bo’s official monthly salary of $1,585.
Writing in the Washington Post, David Ignatius quotes Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, who says that “similar patronage networks operate across the country.”
Bloomberg has put together a graphic illustrating the Bo dynasty, showing family members of the now-disgraced former party boss of Chonquing who allegedly became conduits for cash. Bo’s wife has been arrested in connection with the murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who may have been her lover.