Walmart’s India unit hit by probe

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Walmart joint venture in India REUTERS A worker arranges oranges at a Bharti Wal-Mart Best Price Modern wholesale store at Zirakpur in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

Several employees have been suspended at Wal-mart's joint venture in India as an international bribery investigation spreads, officials and news reports said Friday.

Few details were available about the Indian decision, which come on the heels of an investigation into US-based Wal-mart's operations in Mexico, where several employees allegedly paid bribes in order to secure favourable treatment for the company, in violation of US bribery laws.

The investigation into the international operations of the world's largest retailer has since spread to other countries, including China and Brazil.

“A few associates have been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. We are committed to conducting a complete and thorough investigation,” a spokesman of the joint venture, Bharti-Wal-mart, said.

The Economic Times in its report said the chief financial officer and the firm's entire legal team had been suspended.

The suspensions come as Wal-mart is looking at entering India's lucrative 500-billion-dollar multi-brand retail sector.

Until recently, Indian law had limited it to operating wholesale stores, and only with an Indian partner, leading to the creation of the Bharti-Wal-mart venture.

However, in September, India decided to open its retail sector to foreign supermarkets, a major economic reform that had been blocked last year due to political opposition.

The government also permitted global firms to hold up to 51-per-cent equity in companies such as department stores that sell items from multiple brands.

The Bharti-Wal-mart alliance began operations in India in 2009. It plans to open retail stores in India in the next two years. - Sapa-dpa

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