Government remains tight-lipped on BAT investigation

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Government has refused to explain why it decided to investigate allegations of smuggling by British American Tobacco (BAT) in secret.

The Government has refused to explain why it decided to investigate allegations of smuggling by British American Tobacco (BAT) in secret.

In response to a request by The Independent under the new Freedom of Information Act, which is supposed to open up Whitehall documents to the public, the Government said it was "in the public interest" to withhold information revealing why ministers chose to conduct a confidential inquiry in to BAT.

Claims that BAT had been involved in smuggling surfaced in 2000, prompting MPs to call for a full Government inquiry, the results of which were to be published. But the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers, ordered an investigation using powers that prohibited publication of its findings.

In March 2004, the DTI concluded its inquiry and took no action against BAT. MPs and anti-smoking campaigners have, however, demanded to see the report.

The DTI said publishing information on why a confidential inquiry was conducted would jeopardise the "full and frank" advice given to ministers by DTI officials. "Ministers need to be informed of the allegations made against a company. Such allegations are unproven and capable of being damaging, particularly if it were to come out that they had been discussed at a ministerial level. This is so even if many of the allegations are in the public domain," the DTI said. It added that exposure of its methods of investigation could assist rogue companies to escape attention.

The DTI also refused to divulge any information that might have shed light on one of Philip Green's early retail investments - a group called Amber Day. Mr Green, who would have offered investors a stake in Marks & Spencer had his attempt to acquire the retailer succeeded last summer, abruptly quit Amber Day in 1992 after the group missed a profits target.

Comments