Wal-Mart Mexico Unit Probed on Complaints of Cockfight

Wal-Mart de Mexico SAB, the country’s biggest retailer, is being probed by local officials after shoppers complained that a store hosted a cockfight to promote a soda company.

Fines of as much as 96,000 pesos ($7,240) could be levied if Walmex is found responsible, said Jose Luis Hernandez, commercial director of the city of Boca del Rio, where betting on fighting roosters is illegal. A Walmex spokesman, Antonio Ocaranza, said the roosters weren’t armed with blades, no betting took place at the store and no birds were harmed.

“It wasn’t a cockfight,” Ocaranza said yesterday in a telephone interview in Mexico City. “There wasn’t anything that would be in violation of any game regulations.”

The cockfighting claims in the coastal city on the Gulf of Mexico outraged local animal-rights groups after photos of brawling roosters ringed by shoppers in a supermarket aisle made the rounds on social media. The incident occurred Sept. 15 as part of Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations, Hernandez said.

Walmex, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has until Sept. 24 to bring evidence against the cockfighting claims, according to Hernandez. It would also be illegal to bring live animals into a business, he said.

“This commercial establishment has a specific license to sell certain products, but not to organize an event different from its activities,” Hernandez said in a telephone interview. “And this was an event totally different from the activities that they were licensed to carry out.”

A local soft-drink company staged the event to promote its product, said Ocaranza, the Walmex spokesman. Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the case.

Walmex rose 0.8 percent to 34.97 pesos at the close of trading in Mexico City. The stock hasn’t recovered since an April 2012 New York Times report that the company paid $24 million to bribe local officials to speed store openings, falling 19 percent through yesterday while the benchmark IPC index gained 17 percent. The Times story won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

(Updates with closing prices in final paragraph.)
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