‘No Reason to Fear Prosecution’
As the presidential campaign was drawing to a close in late 2016, lawyers for Walmart met with senior Justice Department officials in Washington to discuss a possible settlement.
The department had spent four years investigating whether the retail giant had bribed government officials in Mexico and other countries, one of the biggest investigations ever under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The department wanted Walmart to pay penalties of about $600 million, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. A guilty plea was on the table for the company or one of its subsidiaries, and the S.E.C. was pushing for a steep punishment as well.
Walmart bristled, and as the election came and went, the two sides continued to negotiate, leading Walmart to receive more favorable terms from the Justice Department. But at the tail end of the Obama administration, it became increasingly difficult to get Walmart’s lawyers to schedule meetings, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations, who spoke about the private discussions on the condition of anonymity.
Walmart had reason to hope that the Trump administration might have a more open mind. After the Walmart bribery scandal first came to light in an investigation published in The Times in 2012, Mr. Trump, then a real estate mogul with international holdings, said on CNBC that it was unfair to expect a company like Walmart not to engage in bribery when doing business overseas. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, he said, was a “horrible law, and it should be changed.”
A person briefed on the matter said that negotiations gained steam in the early months of the Trump administration. Although Walmart was negotiating with the same career officials as it had during the Obama administration, the company closed in on a more favorable deal. Negotiations stalled again, and to date, the case against Walmart has not been resolved, though an announcement could come soon, the person briefed said. The company has said publicly that it set aside $283 million to cover potential settlements.
A Walmart spokesman said the company was “continuing discussions with the government agencies as we work to reach a solution.” Mr. Stafford, the Justice Department spokesman, objected to The Times’s account of the negotiations, without specifying what the department disputed.
As part of the analyses of enforcement activity under Mr. Trump, The Times asked Duke Law School and the Legal Data Lab at the University of Virginia School of Law to analyze corporate criminal prosecutions at the Justice Department, which they track.