Cigarette manufacturing giant, British American Tobacco (BAT) allegedly ran a mass surveillance operation and informant network in South Africa in recent years, making questionable payments to collaborators in 10 other African countries to the tune of $600,000 to undermine tobacco control policy on the continent, a new report by STOP — a global tobacco industry watchdog has revealed.
The published report which followed through on BAT activities in Central and East Africa between 2008 and 2013 was derived from whistleblower documents and court records by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath.
Copies of the STOP report made available to The New Diplomat suggest that BAT PLC, a tobacco multinational, allegedly used payments to dozens of individuals and “unlawful surveillance to tighten its already crushing market grip on Africa.”
Findings of the report which focused on BAT’s activities in several East and Central African countries, as well as its aggressive tactics in South Africa revealed that BAT appeared to be operating “as if it were above the law according to the report on South Africa to sell cigarettes to African’s products known to cause tobacco related illness death and economic harm across the region. Evidence appears to connect BAT to hand-delivered cash, cars, per diems and campaign donations to dozens of politicians, civil servants, journalists as well as people working at competitor companies. The payments may have helped secure influence on health policies in key African countries. Documents also provide evidence that suggests, in South Africa, BAT hired private contractors, under the pretense of anti-smuggling efforts, to carry out military-style surveillance and operations to disrupt its competitors.”
Reacting to the reports’ findings, Comrade Akinbode Oluwafemi, frontline anti-tobacco advocate and Chairman of the African Tobacco Control Alliance said: “BAT’s behavior is a reminder of the tobacco industry’s deep colonialist roots, showing contempt for African laws, business and trade and the health and well-being of Africans. Then and now, the tobacco industry seeks to exploit Africans for its own profit with no consideration for the harm it causes.”
“Our analysis shows that BAT’s potentially corrupt practices in Africa were not just the work of a few bad apples,” said Andrew Rowell, Senior Researcher Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, a partner in STOP. He continued: “The geographic spread of the activity,the infrastructure used and the number of senior staff involved suggest that BAT’s payments were routine, with the evidence trail frequently leading back to BAT’s London headquarters This is not the kind of company any government should leave unregulated or fail to investigate.
One of the released reports titled: “Buying Influence and Advantage in Africa: An Analysis of British American Tobacco’s Questionable Payments” is based on leaked documents including internal emails, invoices and court affidavits from two former employees turned whistleblowers.
“British American Tobacco in South Africa Any Means Necessary is based on leaked company documents whistleblower testimony and court documents from litigation in South Africa.
According to the report, in January 2021, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) concluded its five-year investigation into alleged bribery by BAT and its employees, citing that there was not enough evidence to support prosecution as defined under the U.K. Code for Crown Prosecutors, while further stating that: “The SFO will continue to offer assistance to the ongoing investigations of other law enforcement partners.”
Analysis of whistleblower documents connected to BAT’s work in East and Central Africa revealed evidence of questionable payments made in Burundi, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Researchers identified 236 payments made between 2008 and 2013 totaling US $601,502 that were allegedly used to try to influence policy and sabotage competitors.
Researchers categorized payments into two categories: those “raising questions under the United Kingdom Bribery Act (UKBA), and another less serious but still suspicious group of payments “warranting further investigation under the UKBA.”
The payments, according to STOP included: More than $28,500 to sources within the Kenya Revenue Authority and more than $38,500 to a former Justice Minister allegedly in exchange for intelligence and for assistance with BAT’s efforts to prevent SICPA from winning the tender over Codentify.
$20,000 to the chair of a Ugandan parliamentary committee to allegedly “amend” a report related to an investigation into Continental Tobacco Uganda.
“An offer of $110,000 to an executive of Leaf Tobacco and Commodities Ltd. of Uganda allegedly in exchange for evidence of potentially illegal activities by the company. A document detailing the proposal appears to include an offer to arrange an immunity from prosecution agreement.
“Roughly $56,000 to a private contractor allegedly to covertly establish a trade union and orchestrate labor unrest at a competitor, Mastermind Tobacco Kenya. The effort was dubbed Operation Snake.”
“Support for “Operation Deep Jungle,” allegedly to establish a permanent informant at a rival company Japan Tobacco International.”
The documents further suggested that BAT often routed payments through third party companies referred to as service providers.
Further findings stated in the report added that “BAT staff in London appear to have been involved in requesting and authorizing payments, processing invoices, and approving service provider contracts. Some employees seemed to know they were involved in questionable activities as they used aliases and private email accounts when communicating BAT in South Africa: Crossing the Line and Covering its Tracks Analysis finds that to solidify BAT’s tobacco monopoly in South Africa, BAT and a private contractor may have repeatedly crossed the line of legality to undermine competitors and disrupt operations.
It alleged further that: BAT worked with “state agencies while allegedly complicit in smuggling. While BAT gained access to state agencies, ostensibly to help fight illicit trade, and issued public statements to say that it supported government efforts to eradicate the problem, BAT cigarettes produced in South Africa were allegedly being smuggled into West Africa, fueling conflict, organized crime, and political instability.
“BAT operates in more than 170 countries and the involvement of head office staff and executives in the activities highlighted in these reports raises questions about its business practices beyond Africa said Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union, a partner in STOP We urge anyone with information about potentially illegal activities to come forward and for regulators to take a hard look at this company and how it behaves. Governments and consumers have every reason to be suspicious,” the report stated.