Tallying up the Walmart bribery probe

Adriene Hill Apr 24, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Shares of Walmart lost another 3 percent or so today — that’s another $3.5 billion from its total market value — on concerns that a Mexican bribery investigation could end up costing the company a ton more. The New York Times reported over the weekend that Walmart bribed Mexican officials as it built its business down there.

We asked Marketplace’s Adriene Hill to find out what impact the allegations might actually wind up having.

Adriene Hill: It’s a little early to know what exactly the scandal will mean to Walmart.

Peter Henning: We’re in the top of the first inning here.

Peter Henning teaches white-collar crime at Wayne State University. But he says even this early on, one thing is clear.

Henning: The company is going to be incurring enormous costs for an internal investigation. Those kind of costs can run into the millions, perhaps even $100 million.

And if Walmart did in fact bribe people, there’ll be government fines.

Andrew Spaulding: It’s not unprecedented by any means to see fines in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

$100 million here, hundreds of millions there, it adds up. Andrew Spaulding teaches anticorruption law at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. He says the scandal could help Walmart’s opponents block the company’s expansion into new markets. It’ll be harder for Walmart to make the case it’s ethical.

And sorry, implicated Walmart execs, but you might want to get that resume together.

Spaulding: I can’t help but think that if Walmart really does want to maintain the image it’s refashioned for itself, it’s going to have to take some fairly dire personal actions.

But there is one part of the company’s business that’s unlikely to change. Ken Perkins is an analyst at Retail Metrics.

Ken Perkins: The core consumer that goes to Walmart for value and low price is going to be virtually unaffected by this news.

Because when you’re shopping for a cheap T-shirt or Oreos or a new garden hose, potential foreign corruption violations don’t really register.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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