Crime & courts

British American Tobacco fails to address Mugabe bribe

One of Britain’s biggest companies has responded after BBC Panorama found evidence suggesting it paid a bribe to the former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe.

The statement from British American Tobacco (BAT) is similar to one sent to the programme pre-transmission, saying it is committed to “acting responsibly and with integrity”. The company has yet to deny paying a bribe to Mugabe.

The investigation, carried out in conjunction with the Bureau​​​ of Investigative Journalism and the University of Bath, had access to thousands of leaked documents. The documents show how​ BAT funded a network of almost 200 secret informants and used illegal surveillance methods to gather information on its rivals in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

BAT has said it was helping the South African government tackle illicit cigarettes and its work in this field has been mischaracterised – but evidence strongly suggests it used security companies to undermine competitors with bribes, phone taps and tracking devices.

Evidence also suggests the company was involved in negotiations to pay between $300,000 and $500,000 to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party in 2013.

Campaigning organisation Transparency International has called for the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to investigate the tobacco giant in light of the BBC Panorama film.

BAT said it fully cooperated with a previous SFO investigation, which ended earlier this year and resulted in no action being taken.

The BBC understands the Serious Fraud Office investigation did not exonerate BAT of wrongdoing. And that in the event new evidence comes to light, the SFO could reopen their investigation into the tobacco company.

The SFO’s investigation was launched following Panorama’s revelations in 2015 that BAT had made secret payments to public officials and politicians in east Africa in an attempt to undermine anti-smoking legislation.


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