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The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week: April 27

4. Wal-Mart's Mexican Mess

Like Caesar in Europe, Wal-Mart (WMT - Get Report) came, saw, and conquered Mexico. Unfortunately, while it was creating its Latin American empire, the widely watched retailer forgot one of Julius's jewels of wisdom: Caesar's wife must be above suspicion.

Or, to loosely translate from the Latin: Only a schmuck breaks the law when the cops are on his tail.

Shares of Wal-Mart took an unholy 5% pounding Monday, as a result of a New York Times report that top executives of its Mexican subsidiary covered up a bribery campaign dating back to 2005 that enabled the company to quickly build stores throughout the country.

Shares of Wal-Mart de Mexico, or Walmex, which is 69% owned by Wal-Mart, sank 12% on the news, wiping out all of this year's gains for the stock. Walmex is the second largest publicly traded stock in the country and Mexico's largest private employer with 209,000 employees.

The NYT said that Wal-Mart informed the U.S. Justice Department in December 2011 about its potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act only after the newspaper revealed its plans to go public with its allegations. Under that law, it is illegal for U.S. corporations and their subsidiaries to bribe foreign officials.

And while, yeah, like the Twist or underage drinking, everybody does it and that's the cost of doing business south of the border (Heck, the Mexican government doesn't even give a culo raton about the allegations!), Wal-Mart's brass should still know better, because if anybody should be acquainted with the law, both domestic and foreign, it should be these folks.

According to Bloomberg, Wal-Mart was a plaintiff or defendant in 3,044 federal court lawsuits -- and that's only since 2009! Gender and race discrimination claims, forced overtime, pay-bias, evidence tampering ... you name it, Wal-Mart is being sued for it.

We're not kidding. NBA players spend less time on the court than Wal-Mart lawyers do within one. The cast of Cheers faced the bar less than our buddies from Bentonville do. (Insert Charlie Sheen legal joke here.)

Seriously, Wal-Mart has operated for decades as a juicy target, and we are not referring to the company's competitor from Minnesota. Politicians, union activists, ex-employees, current employees and everybody in between have been angling for a shot at the retailing giant, so it makes very little sense for Wal-Mart to recklessly give its enemies such a clear opening.

In our view, if Wal-Mart really wants to stay on top, it needs to learn the one lesson that Julius Caesar never did. Quite simply, watch your back.
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