Wal-Mart Investigates Bribery Charges in Mexico

Among the obstacles U.S. retailers may face when trying to expand overseas is the fact that business in certain parts of the world is not always conducted in strict adherence with existing laws. The idea of dealing with Russian officials, for example, has scared off many a Western company from expanding into the region in spite of ample opportunities for growth.

To an extent, Mexico carries a similar stigma, and apparently for good reason. Over the weekend, news has emerged that Wal-Mart Stores Inc., one of the largest retailers in the world and a publicly traded U.S. company, is now investigating allegations that its Mexico-based executives might have engaged in bribery to help the retailer's expansion in the country.

So far, Wal-Mart has not disclosed what the bribes might have been for, but if the U.S. Justice Department finds that the company violated its anti-bribery laws, it could face large fines, not to mention a tarnished reputation both abroad and at home.

If prosecutors establish that Wal-Mart violated the law, the size of any fine could amount to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the competitive edge U.S. officials estimated the company gained from any illegal actions, lawyers said, estimating that a government probe could take two to four years. The government could also require Wal-Mart to hire an independent compliance monitor.

Here's a map outlining how rapidly Wal-Mart saturated the Mexican market.

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