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Mexico Attorney General Starts Probe of Wal-Mart Executives

April 26 (Bloomberg) -- Mexico started a preliminary criminal investigation of Wal-Mart de Mexico SAB executives following allegations they bribed local officials to speed up the awarding of permits for new stores, the Attorney General’s Office said.

The authorities will investigate acts of corruption “where public officials are presumed to have participated,” the attorney general said in a statement today.

Wal-Mart is facing government scrutiny on both sides of the border after the New York Times reported on April 21 that the company had spent more than $24 million in the early 2000s to bribe local officials in Mexico. The U.S. Justice Department announced on April 23 that it was investigating the payments.

Wal-Mart’s Mexico unit “will cooperate with Mexican authorities without any reservations,” and has set up a “process to guarantee that authorities’ requests to review permits and licenses granted to the company for its stores’ operations in Mexico are completely satisfied,” according to an e-mailed statement from the company today.

The Mexican attorney general’s probe comes a day after the country’s anti-corruption agency said it would examine government officials who allegedly accepted the bribes. That agency would only be able to level “administrative fines” while the attorney general is conducting a criminal investigation, said Moises Ciriaco, a press official for Mexico’s anti-corruption agency, known as the Ministry of Public Administration.

Not Speedy

“These investigations are not as speedy or fluid as one would want,” said Ciriaco. “There are investigations that take three or four years, and there are others that are considered fast, and they take six or eight months.”

Mexico City also said yesterday it would investigate Wal-Mart and local officials for evidence of “administrative irregularities or inappropriate conduct.”

President Felipe Calderon said yesterday in Houston that he was “very indignant” by Wal-Mart’s alleged corruption.

Wal-Mart de Mexico’s expansion in Latin America’s second-biggest economy saw it increase the number of its outlets in Latin America’s second-biggest economy by 33 percent to 771 locations from 2002 to 2005, according to information on the company’s website. The company now has 2,709 stores.

Mexico’s Senate passed a bill yesterday that would fine individuals or companies caught illegally obtaining contracts from public companies, the Senate said in an e-mailed statement. The bill still needs to be signed into law by Calderon.

“The accusations recently appearing in the media are just that, accusations,” Wal-Mart said in its statement. “Despite that, we take them very seriously.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nacha Cattan in Mexico City at ncattan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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