Retail giant Walmart aggressively bribed Mexican officials to get the necessary permits to open more than a dozen supermarkets across the country, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The newspaper said its own investigation had identified 19 store sites that were the target of bribery, and detailed one case in which more than $200,000 in bribes was paid to build a supermarket near famed Aztec ruins.
"The Times' examination reveals that Wal-Mart de Mexico was not the reluctant victim of a corrupt culture that insisted on bribes as the cost of doing business. Nor did it pay bribes merely to speed up routine approvals.
"Rather, Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited," it said.
Wal-Mart "used bribes to subvert democratic governance -- public votes, open debates, transparent procedures. It used bribes to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction. It used bribes to outflank rivals."
The Times said Walmart officials themselves did not pay bribes, but arranged for outside lawyers and other middlemen to deliver envelopes of cash that could not be traced back to the company.
The Times said Walmart managed to build a Sam's Club in one of Mexico City's most densely populated neighborhoods without a construction, environmental or even traffic permit after paying bribes totaling $341,000.
It paid $765,000 in bribes to build a large refrigerated distribution center in an environmentally fragile flood basin north of the city, the Times said.
And in the case it detailed, Walmart paid more than $200,000 in bribes to build a supermarket in the ancient city of Teotihuacan, near the town's famed step pyramids.
The Times said it used a $52,000 bribe to alter a zoning map that had been approved by the town's elected leaders, and bribed other officials to help it circumvent laws on protecting antiquities, sparking protests in 2004.
Walmart said in response to the story that it had launched an investigation a year ago into potential violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- which prohibits bribery -- but had not yet reached any final conclusions.
"We are committed to having a strong and effective global anti-corruption program everywhere we operate and taking appropriate action for any instance of non-compliance," spokesman David Tovar said in the statement.
Walmart is the largest private employer in Mexico, with 221,000 people working in 2,275 stores across the country, according to the Times.