MPs ask to see BAT 'smuggling' report

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Indy Politics

A Government inquiry into allegations that Britain's biggest tobacco company may have "deliberately stimulated" smuggling was completed almost a year ago, Whitehall sources said yesterday. MPs and anti-smoking groups have demanded to know whether Tony Blair had intervened to delay publication of the report into British American Tobacco because of his friendship with Alain Dominique Perrin, whose firm is among BAT's biggest shareholders.

As revealed in The Independent on Sunday yesterday, the Prime Minister took a five-day holiday at the billionaire businessman's 15th-century chateau in south-west France last year. M. Perrin heads the luxury goods firm Richemont, which has a substantial stake in BAT.

MPs are to ask whether Mr Blair discussed the inquiry by the Department of Trade and Industry with M. Perrin. The delay of the report into an inquiry opened three years ago has concerned the Commons Select Committee on Health, which might summon BAT executives to give evidence.

Whitehall sources say the draft was completed last summer. "All the work was done, but it has not appeared," one source said. "We can't say why."

The DTI is under pressure to publish the report and explain the long delay. Yesterday an official said the report was being "handled in the usual way". Downing Street said Mr Blair's holiday with M. Perrin " was "purely private". A spokesman added. "There was no official presence and no official meeting. The contact was social."

BAT has consistently condemned tobacco smuggling and denied involvement in the illicit trade.