Umm Muhammed Umar
British American Tobacco says it is committed to “acting responsibly and with integrity”, after evidence had been found suggesting it had paid a bribe to the former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. It has not as yet denied the accusation.
The investigation reportedly accessed thousands of leaked documents showing how BAT had financed a massive network of informers and had used illegal surveillance to gather data on its competitors in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The company claims that it had been assisting the South African government combat the illicit cigarette trade. However, according to the BBC, evidence leans towards security companies having been used to undermine competitors using bribes, tapped phones and tracking devices. It also suggests the company had been in talks, in 2013, to fund Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party with up to $500 000.
The BBC reports that Transparency International has now called for the UK’s Serious Fraud Office to investigate BAT. The company meanwhile said that it had fully cooperated with a previous fraud investigation, which had just ended earlier this year, with no action having been taken. However, according to the BBC, the Serious Fraud Office investigation did not absolve the tobacco giant of wrongdoing. It added that if new evidence cane to light, the investigation could be reopened.
The Serious Fraud Office investigation opened following BBC Panorama having, in 2015, found that BAT had made clandestine payments to public officials and politicians in east Africa aimed at undermining anti-smoking legislation.