MUMBAI — Walmart’s joint venture in India has suspended several senior executives and delayed the opening of some stores in the country as part of an internal bribery investigation, the company said Friday.
It is the latest in a series of setbacks for the retail giant’s international operations, and comes at a particularly sensitive time here, after Indian policy makers this fall started allowing foreign retailers like Walmart to open stores in the country. The investigation seems to have emboldened opposition lawmakers trying to overturn the government’s decision.
In a statement, Bharti Walmart, a 50-50 joint venture between the Indian conglomerate Bharti Enterprises and Walmart Stores Inc., said it had suspended ‘‘a few associates’’ to ensure ‘‘a complete and thorough investigation.’’ The Economic Times newspaper reported that the suspended employees included its chief financial officer and its legal team, but the company would not confirm that.
This month, Walmart disclosed that it had expanded a bribery investigation that was initially focused on Mexico to India, China and Brazil.
Bharti Walmart operates 18 wholesale stores in India that are allowed to sell goods to other businesses like retailers, hotels, and restaurants. Its plans to expand beyond northern India in the coming months have now been delayed.
Walmart’s Indian joint venture also supplies about 200 supermarkets, operating as Easyday, that are wholly owned by its partner’s Bharti Retail.
In a separate inquiry, Indian authorities are looking into whether Walmart violated foreign investment rules by giving Bharti Retail an interest-free loan of $100 million.