Journalism in the Public Interest


Podcast: How the Wal-Mart Bribery in Mexico Investigation Came Together


A Wal-Mart store sign in Mexico City, Mexico. Editor Steve Engelberg talks to New York Times reporter David Barstow about his investigation into Wal-Mart's business operations in Mexico. (Daniel Aguilar/Getty Images)

For our first MuckReads podcast of 2013, we invited New York Times reporter David Barstow to talk to our editor Steve Engelberg about his investigation into how Wal-Mart used bribery to expand their business operations in Mexico.

Barstow and Engelberg talk about how the investigation got started, how he proved the validity of the information he received, why Mexico's FOIA/public records law was very helpful, the impact the reports have already had and ultimately, why looking into foreign bribery was important.

When asked how this investigation compares to some of the other Pulitzer Prize-winning work he's done, Barstow said, "This one had the highest degree of difficulty I think of any story I've ever done. Because it required, number one, penetrating to the highest reaches of a major corporation which is difficult to do in and of itself. But then it takes the added complexity of trying to understand a company's operations in a place like Mexico where the rules are incredibly complicated. You have to understand and learn everything that goes into the permitting process for a new Sam's Club or a Wal-Mart. We're talking 15 to 20 permits per store issued by different agencies and different bureaucracies and tearing all of that apart in a place like Mexico and then lining it up against the reporting and the documentation that we're prying loose from the bowels of Wal-Mart de Mexico is a really unbelievable endeavor. At this point, I'm sure I've looked at well over 100,000 pieces of paper for this line of reporting. And so I think, in terms of degree of difficulty, it's the most difficult thing I've ever taken on."

Walmart has gotten away with so much that is illegal and because they have money to buy their way out of everything they just keep doing it. Thank you for exposing them again!

It is impossible, impossible, impossible, etc. for Walmart to open stores in Mexico without violating the FCPA. Unless they they can classify all of the bribes as facilitating payments. FP’s are when you pay someone to do something they are supposed to do anyway. Similar to tipping the port steward to get your bags to your cabin without incident. If this is what Walmart did, then they would have to report it as such in their books and records. These payments would have to be made to a government official, which includes low level employees who work for the government or at state owned enterprise (this is simplified). I have not heard any reports that large bribes were paid to high level government officials, only small stuff to local officials.

In short Walmart either makes these payments or does not engage in business in Mexico. Which is the better outcome?

Jan. 5, 2013, 11:41 a.m.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Duane Galensky

Jan. 6, 2013, 6 p.m.

Which is the better outcome?

Well, clearly, until they were caught, both WalMart and the people they bribed thought that breaking the law led to the better outcome.

Add a comment

Email me when someone responds to this article.


Get Updates

Stay on top of what we’re working on by subscribing to our email digest.


Our Hottest Stories