On September 26, the United District Court for the Western District of Arkansas adopted a magistrate judge’s recommendation denying Wal-Mart’s motion to dismiss a securities fraud class action arising out of allegations of bribery in Mexico. Plaintiffs had alleged that certain company officials at Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary paid bribes to obtain permits for new stores in Mexico, and that Wal-Mart had deceived investors by claiming in an SEC filing in December 2011 that its investigation of the alleged bribery had taken place in fiscal year 2012. Plaintiffs alleged that Wal-mart actually learned of the suspected corruption in 2005 and conducted an internal investigation in 2006, much earlier than disclosed. The plaintiffs alleged violations of Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, 25 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b) and 78t(a), and violations of SEC Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5.
The court held that the plaintiffs had met the heighted pleading standard required by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 15 U.S.C. § 78u-4(b). The court found, among other things, that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that Wal-Mart’s omission from its 2011 filing of the prior 2005 investigation rendered the filing misleading and that the allegations in the complaint, taken collectively, meet the requisite scienter requirement because they alleged that Wal-Mart knew it was omitting material information that led the statement as a whole to be misleading.
Wal-Mart is still under investigation by the DOJ and SEC related to possible FCPA violations in its foreign subsidiaries, and has disclosed continued cooperation with authorities and strengthening of its global anti-corruption measures. In its fiscal 2014 Global Compliance Program Report, Wal-Mart said it spent a total of $439 million in legal fees and other costs associated with investigations of alleged FCPA violations and to restructure its global compliance policies and procedures.