Wal-Mart Stores Inc's Mexican affiliate routinely used bribes to open stores in desirable locations, according to a New York Times investigation published Monday, which cites 19 instances of the retail giant paying off local officials.
The Times first reported in April that Wal-Mart had intentionally stifled an internal probe into bribery at its Mexican affiliate Walmex .
Late last month, Mexico's anti-corruption body said it found no irregularities in the permits Wal-Mart received in the country, but that two audits remain underway.
In the new report published on its web site, the Times detailed specific instances in which Walmex allegedly paid off officials to expand in Mexico. The alleged payoffs often related to zoning laws and environmental permits that would have otherwise prevented Walmex's opening of new stores.
Much of the report focused on a store built near ancient ruins in Teotihuacan, north of Mexico City. Walmex was hit by protests in 2004 after announcing plans to build a warehouse less than a mile from the city.
In a statement Monday night, Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said the company was already looking into the allegations in the Times article regarding the permitting and licensing process for the Teotihuacan store, as part of a broader internal probe that Wal-Mart began over a year ago into potential violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
"At this point, the investigation is still ongoing and we have not yet reached final conclusions," he said, adding that the company has taken steps to improve its compliance programs.
Wal-Mart is also cooperating with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the matter, Tovar said.
The U.S. Justice Department, the SEC, U.S. lawmakers and authorities in Mexico have all been conducting their own probes.
An official at Mexico's federal attorney general's office told Reuters that an initial probe had been opened following the Times' April story, but that prosecutors did not uncover sufficient evidence to file any charges.
The probe closed "a couple months ago," the official said.
In a "Leading with Integrity" letter sent to Wal-Mart employees after Monday's Times report, Chief Executive Mike Duke - who oversaw international operations from 2005 to 2009 - said integrity is the foundation of the company's culture.
"As leaders, we are measured by our weakest moment, so we can't have a weak moment in the area of integrity," Duke wrote. "We can have a bad sales day and a good sales day and hope