Walmart suspends employees in bribery probe

A Bharti Walmart Best Price wholesale store in Manawala, near Amritsar. Walmart's Indian unit has suspended several employees as part of a probe into bribery allegations with a report saying its finance director was among those told to stay home.

Walmart's Indian unit said Friday it had suspended several employees as part of a probe into bribery allegations, with a report saying its finance director was among those told to stay at home.

The US group, which has a joint venture in India with Bharti Enterprises, has set up wholesale stories in the country and is now gearing up to build its first supermarkets after new legislation opening the retail sector.

Walmart and Bharti, owner of India's top mobile phone firm, "have suspended a few associates" pending the outcome of the investigation into whether the firm paid bribes to promote its Indian business interests, a Walmart spokesman said.

The world's biggest retailer calls its employees "associates".

The spokesman declined to comment on media reports that Walmart ordered its chief financial officer and four legal counsels to stay away from the office but added: "We are committed to conducting a complete and thorough investigation."

The Economic Times newspaper said an auditing and legal team is probing whether Walmart broke the strict US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars bribing foreign governments officials.

Walmart said earlier this month it was looking into corruption allegations in emerging markets Brazil, China and India in addition to ongoing US and Mexican government investigations.

The supermarket giant also faces a separate government investigation in India to establish if it broke foreign exchange laws and secretly invested $100 million in a local supermarket chain -- charges it has denied,

The Walmart spokesman said the US retailer is still enthusiastic about expanding in India despite its legal problems, although the Economic Times said the bribery probe would delay rollout of more stores in India.

"We remain excited about the opportunity to grow our business in one of the world's most vibrant economies," the spokesman said.

The government in September cleared the entry of foreign supermarkets into the Indian retail market as part of a blitz of financial reforms ending years of policy paralysis.

Walmart had said it aimed to open its first retail store within two years.

The government's move to allow entry of foreign supermarket has kicked up a political storm, however, paralysing parliament where opponents are trying to block the move to protest small "mom-and-pop" corner stores.

Walmart also faces trouble on the home front with disgruntled US workers staging strikes and protests over alleged poor pay and mistreatment.

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