3 pension funds named lead plaintiffs in Wal-Mart lawsuit

Wal-Mart Stores investors’ lawsuits over the retailer’s handling of allegations that it paid bribes in Mexico will be led by three pension funds — $152.1 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System, New York City Employees’ Retirement System and the Indiana Electrical Workers Pension Trust Fund — Delaware court filings show.

The New York employees’ pension fund is part of the $122 billion New York City Retirement Systems. Its asset size and the size of the Indiana pension fund could not be learned by press time.

The three are co-lead plaintiffs in a suit accusing Wal-Mart employees of bribing Mexican officials to help fuel the company’s growth in the country, lawyers for the pension funds and Wal-Mart said in a Delaware Chancery Court, Wilmington, filing.

Both U.S. and Mexican prosecutors said this year they had started probes of the bribery allegations, first reported by the New York Times. Wal-Mart de Mexico SAB is the country’s largest private employer, with more than 209,000 employees. Twenty percent of Wal-Mart’s more than 10,000 stores worldwide are in Mexico, following growth in the past 10 years.

Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar didn’t immediately return a call for comment on the naming of the co-lead plaintiffs.

The Times reported that officials of Wal-Mart’s Mexican unit paid bribes to win government building permits for stores. Once the allegations came to light, company officials failed to act on the results of an internal probe or inform authorities about the allegations, CalSTRS said in the suit.

The pension funds contend that Wal-Mart officials may have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 and other anti-bribery statutes in connection with the alleged payments to Mexican officials.

The Indiana pension fund has sued to force Wal-Mart to hand over records about internal probes of the bribery allegations and contends that the company had been “woefully deficient” in producing documents.