NEW YORK — Allegations that Walmart Stores Inc. covered up the findings of an internal probe that proved its Mexican subsidiary bribed officials in that country could have huge implications for the world’s biggest retailer and its executives.

The alleged bribery scheme was revealed by The New York Times, which reported that Walmart failed to notify law enforcement after the company’s investigators found evidence of millions of dollars in bribes given to Mexican officials in exchange for getting building permits faster and other favors to help it aggressively expand in the region.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and Henry Waxman said Monday that they were launching an investigation into the matter, and they sent a letter to CEO Mike Duke asking for a meeting. And The Washington Post reported late Monday that the U.S. Department of Justice has been conducting a criminal probe of the allegations since December, citing people familiar with the matter.

If Walmart is found to have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids paying bribes to foreign officials, the company could face fines of hundreds of millions of dollars. Top Walmart executives could lose their jobs – or worse, go to jail. And the retailer could suffer a public relations nightmare if a lengthy investigation ensues.

“Unlike prior bad PR stories in recent years, this will be a material distraction for Walmart on multiple fronts,” said Charles Grom, a retail analyst at Deutsche Bank.

The Times reported Saturday that a former company executive in 2005 told Walmart top brass about a bribery campaign that was used to help the retailer expand in Mexico. The paper said Walmart officials launched an investigation into its Walmart de Mexico subsidiary, but shut down the probe despite a report by its lead investigator that Mexican and U.S. laws likely were violated.

Walmart de Mexico is Walmart’s largest subsidiary, and one out of every five Walmart stores is in Mexico.