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A federal grand jury is investigating whether Thomas M. Coughlin, a former vice president of Wal-Mart Stores, cheated on an expense account and misused gift cards, a Wal-Mart spokesman said yesterday.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether Thomas M. Coughlin, a former vice president of Wal-Mart Stores, cheated on an expense account and misused gift cards, a Wal-Mart spokesman said yesterday.

Wal-Mart told regulators in a filing that Mr. Coughlin may have improperly appropriated as much as $500,000. Lawyers for Mr. Coughlin have denied the accusations.

A close friend and hunting companion of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart’s founder, Mr. Coughlin retired in January to great fanfare. A library was named after him, and a celebration took place only a short time before the company uncovered what executives call a pattern of financial abuses. Mr. Coughlin, 55, resigned from the board on March 25.

Executives at Wal-Mart said they referred the matter to a federal prosecutor in Arkansas after deciding “we couldn’t treat him any differently than any lower-ranking employee,” a Wal-Mart executive said.

Yesterday afternoon, William W. Taylor III, a lawyer in Washington representing Mr. Coughlin, criticized Wal-Mart for “still not giving us any documents” that led to the accusations. “We are feeling very handicapped,” he said.

In a statement issued earlier, Mr. Taylor and Blair G. Brown, another of Mr. Coughlin’s lawyers, denied the allegations.

“Mr. Coughlin did not seek nor obtain any improper reimbursements from Wal-Mart,” they wrote. The lawyers said they could not respond further because of Wal-Mart’s refusal to give them records

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