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Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 9:00am

Wal-Mart's Lobbying In U.S. To Be Probed By Indian Government

India's government has approved an inquiry into Wal-Mart's lobbying activities in the U.S. as a heated debate over the retail giant's plans for stores in India moves into a new phase.

The company has been at the heart of noisy disruptions in the Indian parliament. Last week, the government cleared the way for the chain to open stores in India. But opponents have tried to stir suspicions by conflating Wal-Mart's lobbying in the U.S. with bribery of officials in India.

So now, a retired judge has been appointed to investigate the retailer's lobbying activities.

The company, as The Financial Times reports, has said it spent $25 million over the past four years lobbying the U.S. government on issues including "market access for investment in India." Wal-Mart has issued a statement saying that any "allegation that a routine U.S. lobbying disclosure form reflects improper conduct in India is false."

American Ambassader Nancy Powell has joined the discussion, saying that in the U.S., "bribery" and "lobbying" are "two separate things."

Though Wal-Mart's disclosures have generated political heat, the captains of India's own industries are no strangers to lobbying in America. Records filed with the U.S. House of Representatives show that some of India's most successful companies including Reliance Industries and Tata Sons, have contracted with American lobbying firms to promote their business interests.

Wal-Mart was already being investigated in India, as the FT explains, "over accusations that it secretly invested in supermarkets, flouting a ban on foreign direct investment in the sector." It invested in Easyday stores, a chain of convenience shops and hypermarkets that are managed by a partner, Bharti Enterprises.

(NPR's Julie McCarthy is based in New Delhi.)

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