Mexico: Wal-Mart faces money laundering scandal

According to two members of the US Congress, Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Henry Waxman (D-CA), there is evidence that the US-based retail giant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., didn’t take legally required steps to prevent money laundering and tax evasion through its Mexican subsidiary, Wal-Mart de México. The allegation appears in an Aug. 14 letter the lawmakers wrote to Wal-Mart Stores CEO Michael Duke complaining that the company has failed to cooperate with their investigation of a $24 million bribery scandal that emerged in April.

“[A]lthough you have stated on multiple occasions that you intend to cooperate with our investigation,” Cummings and Waxman wrote, “you have failed to provide the documents we requested, and you continue to deny us access to key witnesses.” Despite the lack of cooperation from Wal-Mart, the Congress members said they had “obtained internal company documents, including internal audit reports, from other sources suggesting that Wal-Mart may have had compliance issues relating not only to bribery, but also to ‘questionable financial behavior’ including tax evasion and money laundering in Mexico.” They added that their concerns about Wal-Mart’s practices weren’t limited to Mexico.

The letter gave no specifics about the compliance issues, but Wal-Mart de México operates a bank which accepts deposits and issues credit and debit cards. The subsidiary’s stocks fell by 5.95% on the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV) on Aug. 15, the day Cummings and Waxman made their letter public.

This is the third time in one month that foreign corporations have been linked to the laundering of money from Mexico. In July a US Senate subcommittee reported on compliance violations by the London-based corporation HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, and in early August US media reported on an investigation of possible violations by right-wing US billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. casino company. Mexican regulators fined HSBC $28 million in July for its failure to prevent money laundering through its Mexican subsidiary. (La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 15, from correspondent, Aug. 16; Associated Press, Aug. 15, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Wal-Mart may benefit from having good connections across the political spectrum in Mexico. According to the Mexican-based Reporte Indigo website, a Wal-Mart de México vice president, Álvaro Arrigunaga Gómez del Campo, is a cousin of Margarita Zavala Gómez del Campo, the wife of Mexico’s current president, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, who is a leader of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). Another Wal-Mart vice president is Alberto Ebrard Casaubón, brother of Marcelo Ebrard, head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) and one of the most popular politicians in the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). A second brother, Eugenio Ebrard, worked for the firm from the 1990s until 2010. (Poder Ciudadano, Ciudad de Puebla, April 25)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 19.