Washington: American retail giant Wal-Mart gave bribes to get its way into Mexico City after an unfavorable zoning decision by the nation’s leaders prohibited the firm to open a store in an area, closely located to the ancient pyramids, and is expected to draw several tourists from around the world, a new probe has found.
According to an investigation launched by The New York Times, Wal-Mart longed to open a store in Elda Pineda’s alfalfa field, a location, just off this town’s bustling main entrance and barely a mile from the pyramids, and draws tourists from around the world.
The firm calculated it would attract 250 customers an hour if only it could put a store in Mrs. Pineda’s field. However, a 2003 zoning map prohibited commercial development on Mrs. Pineda’s field, seemingly dooming Wal-Mart’s hopes, following which officials at the headquarters of Wal-Mart de Mexico paid a 52,000 dollar bribe to go ahead with store plans.
According to the paper, Wal-Mart planned as the zoning map would not become law until it was published in a government newspaper, therefore, Wal-Mart de Mexico arranged to bribe an official to change the map before it was sent to the newspaper, records and interviews show, after which when the map was finally published, the zoning for Mrs. Pineda’s field was redrawn to allow Wal-Mart’s store.
Wal-Mart de Mexico broke ground months later, provoking fierce opposition from protesters who decried the very idea of a Wal-Mart so close to a cultural treasure. Yet for all the scrutiny, the story of the altered map remained a secret. The store opened for Christmas 2004, affirming Wal-Mart’s emerging dominance in Mexico, the paper said.
According to the probe, the secret held even after a former Wal-Mart de Mexico lawyer revealed how Wal-Mart de Mexico routinely resorted to bribery, citing the altered map as but one example.
His detailed account — he had been in charge of getting building permits throughout Mexico — raised alarms at the highest levels of Wal-Mart and prompted an internal investigation. It has also been leant that the Wal-Mart’s leaders shut down the investigation in 2006.
They did so even though their investigators had found a wealth of evidence supporting the lawyer’s allegations. The decision meant authorities were not notified, and also meant basic questions about the nature, extent and impact of Wal-Mart de Mexico’s conduct were never asked, much less answered, the paper said.
The New York Times has now picked up the point where Wal-Mart’s internal investigation was cut off, traveling to dozens of towns and cities in Mexico, and has revealed the whole scenario that went on behind the scenes.
It has gathered tens of thousands of documents related to Wal-Mart de Mexico permits, and interviewing scores of government officials and Wal-Mart employees, including 15 hours of interviews with the former lawyer, Sergio Cicero Zapata.
First Published: Tuesday, December 18, 2012, 14:03