Retired judge to head Walmart lobbying probe

December 13, 2012 - 6:37:53 am

NEW DELHI: India yesterday announced the appointment of a retired judge to probe spending by US supermarket chain Walmart on lobbying in Washington to ease access to foreign markets, including India.

Walmart, in a disclosure report to the US Senate, said it had spent $25m over four years on lobbying, including issues related to “enhanced market access for investment in India”.

The report has sparked a political ruckus in New Delhi with opposition lawmakers, who are against Walmart’s entry into India, calling for an inquiry into whether any money was spent by the supermarket chain in India.

“The government will appoint a retired judge to hold a time-bound inquiry into the media reports regarding Walmart,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said in the lower house of the parliament.

Walmart has said there was nothing illegal about the practice and the US State Department also stated no laws had been broken. Yesterday, Walmart reiterated that allegations of improper conduct on its part were untrue.

“The allegation that a routine US lobbying disclosure form reflects improper conduct on our part in India, is false. This disclosure has nothing to do with political or governmental contacts with India government officials,” it said. US ambassador to India Nancy Powell also defended the retail giant, saying Walmart had incurred the lobbying expense in the United States and not in India.

“What has happened is accusations that this money was bribery. What it is, is lobbying. In the US, those are two very separate things,” Powell was quoted as saying in the Indian Express newspaper. India’s opposition, led by the Bhartiya Janata Party, has pounced on Walmart’s disclosure report to stall parliamentary proceedings and embarrass Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led government.

Opposition parties assert that the arrival of chains such as Walmart or Britain’s Tesco will drive millions of small independent shops out of business.

Last week, the government won two key parliamentary votes for its policy to allow in foreign supermarkets as part of its push to revive the faltering economy.