British American Tobacco accused of corporate espionage in South Africa

Fresh international accusations emerge against tobacco giant

Lawyers investigating bribery and corruption allegations against one of the world’s leading tobacco firms have been urged to expand their investigation after fresh international accusations emerged.

British American Tobacco, BAT, has been accused of corporate espionage against rival cigarette makers in South Africa. 

According to court documents seen by The Independent on Sunday, two former police officers who went to work for private corporate investigation companies paid cash to South African law enforcement officials to disrupt BAT’s competitors’ business operations.

The accusations have been made in court documents filed by a body representing small local tobacco producers in a complaint to the South African government’s Competition Commission. The affidavits say BAT officials instructed the men to disrupt rivals’ trade by falsely suggesting they were marketing and selling cigarettes unlawfully. The aim, often successful, was to get rivals’ stock impounded and discourage wholesalers from dealing with rival firms.

The South African claims follow bribery allegations, first revealed by the IoS and the BBC, in a dossier of claims passed to the UK’s Serious Fraud Office by Paul Hopkins, a BAT whistleblower who worked in Africa for BAT for 13 years before being made redundant.  

Mr Hopkins – responsible for stopping the illicit tobacco trade in East and Central Africa – said he facilitated payments on BAT’s account to cripple anti-smoking laws in several East African countries, payments to officials to undermine efforts by the World Health Organisation to reduce deaths from smoking, ran a corporate spying operation, and conducted “black ops” to put rivals out of business.

After his claims, members of the US Congress called for a Department of Justice investigation.

Last week Nicandro Durante, head of BAT, announced that the lawyers Linklaters had been appointed by the firm to investigate the corruption allegations in East Africa. BAT’s critics said last night that this investigation should be extended to cover the fresh South African claims as well.

BAT insists the company does not “tolerate corruption in our business anywhere in the world” and says its policy “is to take all appropriate action” on any allegation.

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