On Sunday, The New York Times made international headlines when it published an investigation that found executives from Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary reportedly used systematic bribery to receive expedited building permits across the country.
Now community leaders in Los Angeles say they’re suspicious of how Wal-Mart received building permits just hours before the city council voted unanimously to block the retail giant from building in Chinatown.
“Walmart fueled its rapid expansion in Mexico with millions in bribes paid to get building permits and land use approvals through quickly. Last month, Wal-Mart suspiciously received building permits only about 12 hours before the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to temporarily block those permits,” James Elmendorf, Deputy Director, of LAANE told Colorlines.com.
In 2004, Elmendorf’s group LAANE led the defeat of a Wal-Mart sponsored initiative that would have exempted the company from zoning and environmental restrictions in nearby predominantly black and Latino Inglewood.
In March the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a motion to ban chain retail stores from Chinatown. But the evening before Robert “Bud” Ovrom, general manager of the city’s Building and Safety Department, told the council that Wal-Mart had just obtained the construction permits to renovate the ground floor of a building in Chinatown.
“This project is moving forward. This ordinance would not have any immediate impact on this project,” Ovrom told the council, according to the LA Times.
The community leader’s concerns come after several scandals and investigations at the department for permit bribery and misconduct—as recent as this February. The FBI investigated the most recent scandal in LA’s Koreatown after multiple complaints were made against an inspector who quit after being placed on leave.
“LAANE finds it questionable that similar, 11th hour permits are being issued for Walmart stores in communities of color abroad and here at home in Los Angeles in the dark of night.”
“This scandal is serious—the allegations of bribery in Mexico put into question Walmart’s ethics throughout their entire company and should give anyone pause about doing business with Walmart, including the City of Los Angeles,” Elmendorf said.