IRS OFFICER TRAINEES: Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu with the 71st batch of Indian Revenue Service officer trainees from National Academy of Direct Taxes, in New Delhi, on March 20

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Who are the Indian officials allegedly taking $5 (Rs 300)-bribe from Walmart?

THE world’s largest retailer by revenue –Walmart had to pay bribes to Indian officials in return for regulatory clearances, mainly clearing goods through customs or securing real estate permits, according to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on October 19. The report says, the retailer paid bribes ranging from $5 to $200 to local officials in India. Before knowing more about the case, let’s get an idea of the sheer size of Warmart.  It’s the world’s largest company in terms of revenue ($485 billion, 2014 data). In other words, its revenue is almost double the Ireland’s GDP, 10 times the Slovenia’s GDP and 250 times that of Bhutan. In terms of assets…
it’s worth $203 billion (2014). And its slogan is: Save Money, Live Better.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, most of the bribes were of lesser amount, some were as low as $5 (about Rs 300). But when it is totaled, the bribe amount turns millions of dollar. But it’s still unclear when that alleged bribes were actually paid.
The Walmart began its journey in India in the year 2007 in partnership with Bharti Enterprises, but its operation had never been smooth. First, the government of the day had to tackle huge political opposition in allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, and even after FDI in multi-brand (up to 51%) was legalized in India, the policy did not really take off well mainly because of the opposition from many states. Any by 2013, Walmart severed its ties with Bharati Enterprises and began its journey solo. Currently, it runs 21 Best Price Modern Wholesale stores in various Indian cities. In US, the probe began after New York Times reported in December 2012 that the retailer paid $24 million in alleged bribes in Mexico. Later, the probe got expanded to emerging nations such as India, China and Brazil.
As has been quoted in various international media reports, Walmart spokesperson says the company has been cooperating fully with the US government, but can’t comment further on the processes. The company further says, the compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and other anti-corruption laws is its "key priority".
The media reports have further highlighted a fact that the retail giant may not necessarily have to pay a hefty fine for its alleged wrongdoing in India because of technicalities. After all, under the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act), the penalty is linked to the company’s profitability in the country concerned. In India, its operations have not been profitable, in particular.
Now, the question remains whether Indian investigating and vigilance agencies will make any effort to zero in who are those Indian officials involved in Walmart’s alleged multi-million dollar bribery.

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