Who knows what investigators will come up with as they sift through Walmart's alleged bribery activity in Mexico. They're only just getting started. But NYT columnist James Stewart notes another Arkansas-based company that had been accused of similar payoffs and coverups - a little outfit called Tyson Foods. So what happened to Tyson?
Last year, the Justice Department charged Tyson with conspiracy and with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Tyson didn't contest the facts, agreed to resolve the charges with a deferred prosecution and paid a $4 million criminal penalty. The company paid an additional $1.2 million and settled related regulatory complaints that it had maintained false books and records and lacked the controls to prevent payments to phantom employees and government officials. It's axiomatic that people, not corporations, commit crimes. So what happened to the Tyson executives involved? Not only did the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission take no action against them, but the executives involved weren't even named.
As I reported in a column last year, the highest-ranking Tyson executive involved was Greg Lee, then its chief administrative officer. Tyson announced in April 2007, the same month it disclosed its conduct to the government, that Mr. Lee would retire early. There was no mention of any bribery investigation. John Tyson, the company's chairman, praised his "dedicated service to the company over the last three decades," and the company paid Mr. Lee nearly $1 million and awarded him a 10-year consulting contract worth an additional $3.6 million. Mr. Lee was entitled to be reimbursed for his country club dues, to the use of a car, and to "personal use of the company-owned aircraft for up to 100 hours per year," according to his employment agreement. (Mr. Lee didn't respond to my messages seeking comment.)
Stewart cites research from the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology that shows 37 of the 57 companies involved in bribery enforcement actions from 2005 to 2010 settled had no related individuals charged.