NEW DELHI, Dec 12 (Reuters) - India's government announced
an inquiry into lobbying practices by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
on Wednesday after a report that the giant retailer had
pressed U.S. lawmakers to help gain access to foreign markets.
Wal-Mart disclosed in a report to the U.S. Senate that it
had paid $25 million over four years to lobby American lawmakers
to help gain access to overseas markets, including India.
The report spurred opposition lawmakers, who oppose
Wal-Mart's entry into India, to call for an inquiry into whether
any money was spent in India, even though the disclosure filing
only referred to lobbying activities in the United States.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told parliament a
retired judge would be appointed to lead an investigation
"pertaining to Wal-Mart's lobbying".
No further details were available about the inquiry.
Government officials have said privately there is nothing to
investigate since Wal-Mart's lobbying activities in the United
States were not illegal.
Wal-Mart has said allegations that a routine U.S. lobbying
disclosure form reflects improper conduct on their part in India
"This disclosure has nothing to do with political or
governmental contacts with India government officials," said a
Bharti Walmart spokesperson.
"It shows that our business interest in India was discussed
with U.S. government officials along with 50 or more other
topics during a three-month period."
All organisations which expend more than $11,500 annually on
lobbying activities and employ at least one lobbyist must
register and file the quarterly reports, the spokesperson added.
The government wants to resolve the matter as quickly as
possible so that parliament can pass important financial bills
before the winter session ends on Dec. 20.
Wal-Mart has found itself entangled in a fight between Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh's fragile minority government and
political opponents determined to thwart supermarket reform
which, they say, will destroy the livelihoods of millions of
small store owners.
Opposition parties have sought to portray Singh's government
as the pawn of powerful foreign companies ahead of national
elections due in 2014.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart has been the most
active among foreign supermarket operators keen to push their
way into India's $450 billion retail market.