Wal-Mart's proxy vote shows dissent against execs

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By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart's final shareholder vote for its board of directors shows some dissent against key executives and board members, including CEO Mike Duke, in the wake of allegations of bribery in Mexico.

According to the tally, released by the world's largest retailer Monday, 13 percent of the 3.4 billion shares were voted against the re-election of Duke. The election results also showed that nearly 13 percent were against Chairman Robson Walton, the son of founder Sam Walton, and 15.6 percent against former CEO Lee Scott. A little over 13 percent of the votes were cast against Christopher Williams, chairman and CEO of The Williams Capital Group, who serves on Wal-Mart's audit committee,

Wal-Mart announced that these four executives, along with 11 other incumbents, were re-elected to the board at Friday's shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Ark. A new candidate, Marissa Mayer, who is vice president for local, maps and location services at Google Inc., was also elected.

With descendants of Wal-Mart's founder owning about 50 percent of Wal-Mart's shares, activist shareholders had little chance of voting out the board members. But the numbers show a dramatic erosion of support compared with recent years.

Over the previous five years, Wal-Mart's board had received on average 98.4 percent support, according to Michael Garland, who represents the New York City Comptroller's Office, which oversees the public pension funds of New York. The group, which owns 5.6 million shares of Wal-Mart, voted against five members of the board including Scott, Duke and Walton.

The shareholders' meeting comes after a story by The New York Times published in April said the world's largest retailer allegedly failed to notify law enforcement after finding evidence that officials authorized millions of dollars in bribes in Mexico to get speedier building permits and other favors. Duke was head of Wal-Mart's international business at the time of the probe in 2005, and Scott was CEO. It's not clear what board members like Walton knew.

Following the allegations, it has been reported that federal authorities in the U.S. and Mexico are investigating Wal-Mart for potential violations. Investors are suing top executives. And shareholder groups, including the nation's two largest public pension funds, called for the removal of several board members.

Two leading proxy adviser firms, ISS and Glass Lewis & Co. Inc., recommended to Wal-Mart shareholders to vote against certain board members up for re-election as well. They said executives neglected their responsibility relating to the alleged bribery scheme.

Wal-Mart's shares rose 43 cents, to $65.93 on Monday, hovering around a 12-year high. That more than makes up for the 7 percent drop in price after the bribery allegations surfaced.

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