In Trump’s America, Crime Does Pay

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: Today, Walmart agreed to pay $282 million to settle a U.S. bribery investigation regarding the corporation’s securing of permits abroad. In 2016, Public Citizen demanded the federal government prosecute Walmart and its employees if the allegations proved true.

The Trump Justice Department’s message to would-be corporate criminals the world over couldn’t be clearer: Go right ahead.

Today’s slap-on-the-wrist settlement will embolden corporations to skirt the law, or simply ignore it, secure in the knowledge that if caught red-handed, the penalties will be inconsequential.

In Trump’s America, apparently, crime does pay.

The extensive, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting by The New York Times on the Walmart bribery scandal in Mexico identified misconduct that was intentional and systemic, involving 19 stores that the Times was able to identify, reaching the highest levels of Walmex and Walmart. According to the Times’ reporting, Walmart not only failed to self-report the corruption when it was brought to light; the Times reported that senior management shut down an informal investigation into, reporting it only when faced with imminent disclosure in the national media.

We now know that there were additional problems and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act transgressions at Walmart operations in Brazil and India.

Yet Walmart is escaping any meaningful accountability, paying a grossly insufficient fine, escaping prosecution of the parent company and avoiding prosecution of any of the executives involved in the bribery scheme.

The settlement fails to satisfy minimum standards of justice (see the benchmarks we suggested in October 2016 here):

  • Walmart is settling this case for $282 million, a fraction of what the government originally sought and a blip in the accounting ledger of a company with hundreds in billions of annual revenue. There is no reason to believe this amount disgorges Walmart’s ill-gotten gains from Mexico alone, and it certainly won’t deter Walmart or other wrongdoers from future bad acts.
  • The Walmart parent company is avoiding pleading guilty to wrongdoing, with the government instead accepting a thoroughly discredited non-prosecution agreement. Non-prosecution agreements effectively amount to a waiver of prosecution in exchange for a company promise not to break the law in the future – something the company was already required to do. In this case, a criminal plea may have been consequential in affecting Walmart’s ability to receive government funding. The plea deal for the Walmart subsidiary is likely to be of little import.
  • There is no indication that any person connected with the bribery scandal or the global misconduct will be criminally charged.
  • Finally, the government failed even to disclose what it found about Walmart’s misconduct.

Walmart is one the largest companies in the world. The deal today makes clear that it had a global problem of noncompliance with anti-bribery laws. Why in the world should the company get off, almost scot-free, simply because it has belatedly, purportedly put in place compliance systems that it should have implemented in the first place?

This is a shocking disgrace even by the degraded standards of the Trump administration.