WASHINGTON — Wal-Mart, the giant retailer now under fire over allegations of foreign bribery in Mexico, has participated in an aggressive and high-priced lobbying campaign to amend the long-standing U.S. antibribery law that the company might have violated.
The push to revisit how federal authorities enforce the statute has been centered at a little-known but well-funded arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where a top executive of Wal-Mart has sat on the board of directors for nearly a decade.
The effort has intensified in the past two years, drawing on the backing of several large companies and trade groups such as the Retail Industry Leaders Association, where one of Wal-Mart's top executives serves as a director. It also has involved high-powered lobbyists, including former attorney general Michael Mukasey.
The 1977 law, known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, prohibits U.S. companies from offering fees or gifts to foreign officials to advance corporate interests.
There is no evidence that suggests Wal-Mart participated in the chamber's efforts because of its problems in Mexico.
The Justice Department launched an investigation into Wal-Mart's Mexican subsidiary in December over allegations that it paid more than $24 million in bribes to win construction permits there.
A company whistle-blower told top corporate officials about the alleged bribes in 2005, the New York Times reported Sunday. The company launched but then shut down an internal inquiry and then failed to notify the Justice Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission of the allegations as required by law.
Wal-Mart's corporate secretary and top ethics officer, Thomas Hyde, who stepped down from his job at Wal-Mart in 2010, was among the company executives who received initial reports of the bribes in 2005, the New York Times reported.
Between 2003 and 2010, public records show, Hyde sat on the 40-member board of the Institute of Legal Reform, a division of the chamber that has led the way in criticizing parts of the antibribery law and talking about the need to change it.
Wal-Mart did not respond to questions about its participation in the chamber campaign.
Wal-Mart issued a statement on Tuesday saying it had created a new role for a global compliance officer for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. "We are taking a deep look at our policies and procedures in every country in which we operate," said company spokesman David Tovar.