Walmart has agreed to pay $282 million to settle a long-running investigation into questionable payments the world’s largest retailer funneled to government officials in countries like Mexico and Brazil.
The settlement with the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission caps one of the biggest investigations ever under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for American corporations to bribe foreign officials.
The investigation, which was conducted by the two federal agencies, came after The New York Times revealed in 2012 that Walmart had made suspicious payments to officials in Mexico and then tried to conceal them from the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
The Times investigation included extensive interviews with a former Walmart executive in Mexico, who described how the company delivered envelopes of cash to officials to buy zoning approvals, reductions in environmental fees and the loyalty of neighborhood leaders.
[Read The New York Times investigation that spurred the bribery case in 2012.]
Executives at company headquarters learned of the misdeeds in 2005 but subsequently shut down an internal investigation instead of reporting potential violations to regulators. The federal investigations that followed The Times article expanded beyond Mexico to China, India and Brazil.
On Thursday, the S.E.C. said that it found that Walmart failed to “operate a sufficient anti-corruption compliance program for more than a decade as the retailer experienced rapid international growth.”
As part of its agreement with prosecutors, Walmart’s Brazilian subsidiary pleaded guilty to charges stemming from payments the retailer made to an intermediary who was known as “sorceress” and “genie” because of this person’s ability to acquire building permits quickly.
The bribery scandal was a huge blow to Walmart’s reputation, spurring investor lawsuits and prompting the company to spend hundreds of millions on bolstering its compliance programs and dealing with investigations.
The $282 million fine Walmart will pay is less than the $600 million that federal prosecutors and regulators had sought when Walmart was discussing a plea agreement during the waning days of the Obama administration, The Times reported last November.