India’s Cabinet approves panel to probe Wal-Mart lobbying

Posted: January 24, 2013 at 9:49 a.m.

— India’s Cabinet approved a retired judge to probe claims that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. broke rules as it lobbied to enter the country’s retail market.

A retired judge of the Supreme Court or former chief justice of a high court will investigate the Bentonville-based retailer, Information & Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said in New Delhi after a meeting of the nation’s cabinet Thursday.

Wal-Mart spent as much as $25 million since 2008 on discussions regarding its foreign investments, including in the Indian retail industry, the Press Trust of India said Dec. 9, citing company disclosure filings before the U.S. Senate. Opposition lawmakers in parliament alleged part of the money was spent in India, where paid lobbying is not allowed.

India’s parliament last month endorsed a September decision to allow foreign investment in retail stores selling more than one brand, the centerpiece of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s biggest embrace of foreign investment in a decade, as he seeks to revive a slowing economy.

Overseas companies including Wal-Mart, Tesco PLC and Carrefour SA are seeking to benefit from entering the world’s second-most-populous nation, where retail sales are estimated to reach $875 billion by 2017, according to a report by Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India and Yes Bank Ltd.

The judge will investigate reports of Wal-Mart’s lobbying disclosures before the U.S. Senate and whether any of the retailer’s activities in India broke the law, according to a statement from the Ministry of Company Affairs on Thursday. The findings will be submitted to the government within three months, according to the statement.

Kevin Gardner, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.