NEW YORK - Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s CEO Mike Duke found out in 2005 that the retailer's Mexico unit was handing out bribes to local officials, according to emails obtained by lawmakers.
The emails contradict earlier claims by Wal-Mart senior executives that they weren't aware of bribes being made by the company.
Democratic Congressmen Elijah E. Cummings and Henry A. Waxman, who are investigating bribery charges at Wal-Mart's Mexico division, on Thursday released emails that indicate that Duke and other senior Wal-Mart officials were informed multiple times starting in 2005 about bribes being made in the country. U.S. law forbids American companies from bribing foreign officials.
In this Nov. 18, 2011 file photo, a man pays at the cash register at a Wal-Mart Superstore in Mexico City. Lawmakers are making public emails that show that Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s CEO found out in 2005 that the retailer was handing out bribes in Mexico.
The lawmakers shared the emails, which they say they got from a confidential source, with Wal-Mart on Wednesday, and sent a letter to Duke asking for a meeting to discuss them.
"It would be a serious matter if the CEO of one of our nation's largest companies failed to address allegations of a bribery scheme," according to the letter written by Waxman and Cummings to Duke.
Allegations first surfaced in April that Wal-Mart failed to notify law enforcement that company officials authorized millions of dollars in bribes in Mexico to speed up getting building permits and gain other favors. Wal-Mart has been working with government officials in the U.S. and Mexico on that investigation.
The company also has been conducting an internal investigation into the matter. And last November, the retailer said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was looking into potential U.S. bribery law violations in Brazil, China and India.
Brooke Buchanan, a Wal-Mart's spokeswoman, issued a statement on Thursday saying that Wal-Mart has been providing information to the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, including the documents that were released by lawmakers on Thursday. The world's largest retailer also said that it is exploring other ways to make additional information available
"We are committed to having a strong and effective global anti-corruption program everywhere we operate and taking appropriate action for any instance of non-compliance," Brooke said.
The bribery allegations were first reported by the New York Times. Last month, the paper published another story focusing on how Wal-Mart's Mexico division offered large payoffs to get things that the law prohibited.
The story focused on how Wal-Mart paid $52,000 to secure approval to build its store in Teotihuacan on the site of ancient ruins. Although local zoning would have prohibited Wal-Mart from building its store, the Times reported that the company allegedly bribed local officials to have that map redrawn.