Tobacco chief called before committee to answer contraband claims

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The chief executive of Imperial Tobacco is to be summoned before a committee of MPs to face questioning about cigarette smuggling.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee will hear evidence from Gareth Davis as part of an investigation into allegations that the company makes half the contraband cigarettes sold in the UK.

They will ask him to explain why two Imperial Tobacco brands, Regal and Superkings, account for about half the black market cigarettes in the UK – about 7 billion cigarettes – which is more than the quantity of those brands sold legitimately.

The decision to summon the company was welcomed by anti-tobacco campaigners.

"It's about time someone held Gareth Davis's feet to the fire over cigarette smuggling," said Clive Bates, head of Ash, the anti-smoking group. "He needs to explain why the company he runs ships so many billion cigarettes to countries where hardly anyone smokes their brands, but the most obvious customers are major organised crime syndicates that smuggle them back onto the UK market."

MPs met on Wednesday in a closed session and decided that Imperial Tobacco should be summoned after Richard Broadbent, head of Customs and Excise, gave evidence to the committee. Mr Broadbent said that the company had ignored two official warnings about exports to Afghanistan and Moldova.

He prepared a dossier for MPs and told them that he was not entirely satisfied with the co-operation he had gained from the company over a memorandum of understanding to stamp out smuggling. Last night, Imperial Tobacco confirmed that it would appear. But it said it was "surprised and disappointed" at some of the comments made to the Public Accounts Committee and welcomed the opportunity to explain its "extensive input into anti-smuggling measures".