By Dow Jones Business News, March 22, 2013, 09:01:00 AM EDT
By Rajesh Roy
NEW DELHI--Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s ( WMT ) Asia Chief Executive Scott Price Friday appeared before a retired judge
appointed by the Indian government to probe allegations that the retail giant's lobbying activities violated local laws.
Several questions were raised at the meeting and a decision on the next meeting will be made after getting Wal-Mart's
response, a government statement said without giving details.
India last month named Justice Mukul Mudgal to probe the allegations following pressure from opposition parties who
sought to equate a U.S.-mandated report of lobbying activities in Washington by the U.S. retailer with the bribery of
Wal-Mart and other global companies such as Tesco PLC have been looking to set up their retail operations in India,
enticed by the country's $500-billion-a-year, largely unorganized, retail market. They were until recently prevented by
a ban on foreign direct investment in local supermarket operations.
In last September, India lifted the ban partially, allowing foreign retailers to own up to 51% stakes in local
In September, Wal-Mart said it was planning to open its first retail stores in the country in two years. It has yet to
formally approach the government for permission to set up stores, but said last month that it will work with Indian
authorities to understand the investment rules here.
Wal-Mart had disclosed that it spent $25 million on lobbying U.S. lawmakers over the past four years, including on
issues related to "enhanced market access for investment in India." The company has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and
said that it was not a bribe report, but a standard detailing of lobbying activity, which is legal in the U.S.
"We are cooperating with the Indian government and the Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee," a Wal-Mart India spokeswoman
said, responding to an email seeking comment.
The company had discussions with U.S. officials about a range of trade and investment issues which impact its
businesses in the U.S. and worldwide. Under U.S. law, all companies which meet certain time and expenses thresholds on
such activities are required to disclose the details, including their staffing cost and payments to consultants, she
said in an email.
"These disclosures have nothing to do with political or governmental contacts with India government officials," she
said. "It shows that our business interest in India was discussed with U.S. government officials."
Wal-Mart has an equally owned joint venture in India with Bharti Enterprises Ltd. The venture, Bharti Walmart Pvt.
Ltd., operates wholesale stores.
Bharti Walmart's Chief Executive Raj Jain also appeared before the retired judge Friday along with Mr. Price.
Wal-Mart is also facing another investigation in India over allegations that it violated the country's rules by
indirectly investing in a local retail chain in 2010 when rules didn't permit foreign investment in that segment.
The Directorate of Enforcement, an agency under the finance ministry that probes financial irregularities, will likely
complete that probe within a month, a senior finance ministry official said Friday. "We have examined senior executives
of the company," said the official, who didn't want to be named.
"Wal-Mart is cooperating with the government during this process," the Wal-Mart India spokeswoman said on the probe by
the ministry agency. The government had sought certain information and clarification which the company has given, she
The agency started the probe following a complaint to the prime minister by M.P. Achuthan, a lawmaker, in September.
Mr. Achuthan complained that a Wal-Mart unit bought $100 million of convertible debentures in a company through which
Bharti Enterprises controls the Easyday supermarket chain.
Mr. Achuthan offered no proof to back his allegation. The company denied any contravention of Indian laws.
"We are in compliance with India's FDI [foreign direct investment] laws, and all procedures and processes have been
duly followed and details filed with relevant Indian government authorities," the spokeswoman reiterated Friday.
Wal-Mart is committed to the Indian market, she said. "We remain excited about the opportunity to grow our business in
one of the world's most vibrant economies, expand opportunities for farmers and help lower the cost of living for
families in India."
Write to Rajesh Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org
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