story by Jef Feeley
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. investors’ lawsuits over the retailer’s handling of allegations that it paid bribes in Mexico will be led by three pension funds, Delaware court filings show.
Pension funds from New York, California and Indiana have agreed to serve as co-lead plaintiffs in cases accusing Wal- Mart’s directors of bribing Mexican officials to help fuel the company’s growth in the country, lawyers for the funds and Wal-Mart said in a Delaware Chancery Court filing.
“The moving parties have conferred and agree, subject to this court’s approval, that the actions should be consolidated for all purposes into a single consolidated action,” according to the Sept. 3 filing.
Both U.S. and Mexican prosecutors said this year that they had started probes of the bribery allegations, first reported by the New York Times. Wal-Mart de Mexico SAB is the country’s largest private employer, with more than 209,000 employees. Twenty percent of Wal-Mart’s more than 10,000 stores worldwide are in Mexico, following growth in the past 10 years.
David Tovar, a spokesman for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, didn’t immediately return a call for comment on the naming of the co-lead plaintiffs.
The Times reported that officials of Wal-Mart’s Mexican unit paid bribes to win government building permits for stores. Once the allegations came to light, company officials failed to act on the results of an internal probe or inform authorities about the allegations, the California pension fund said in the suit.
The funds, which include the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System and the Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund, contend that Wal-Mart officials may have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 and other anti-bribery statutes in connection with the alleged payments to Mexican officials.
The Indiana fund has sued to force Wal-Mart to hand over records about internal probes of the bribery allegations and contends that the company had been “woefully deficient” in producing documents.
Chancery Court Judge Leo Strine declined at a hearing in July to name a lead plaintiff in the suits, urging the investors to work together.