On Monday, the BBC reported that it found evidence to suggest British American Tobacco (BAT) sabotaged competitors in South Africa and in Zimbabwe and paid a bribe to the late president Robert Mugabe.
In a joint investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the University of Bath, BBC obtained thousands of leaked documents. According to the broadcaster, this included information of almost 200 secret informants in southern Africa.
According to the BBC, BAT was paying bribes in South Africa and using illegal surveillance to “damage rivals”, with most of this work outsourced to a South African company called Forensic Security Services (FSS).
According to the BBC report, FSS tapped the phones of BAT’s competitors, placed tracking devices on their delivery vehicles and bribed staff to hand over information.
South African company records show that FSS is registered in KwaZulu-Natal, with affiliates in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. No directors are listed for the companies, which appear to be deregistered. FSS worked for BAT between 2000 and 2016, the BBC reported.
“FSS was officially tasked with fighting the black-market cigarette trade, however former employees have told the BBC that they broke the law to sabotage BAT’s rivals,” the British broadcaster reported. “Internal documents show in one operation, FSS staff were instructed to close down three cigarette factories run by BAT’s competitors in Zimbabwe.”
BAT rejected the BBC allegations but told the broadcaster that it was not unlawful to pay sources to gather information about criminal behaviour.
BAT said: “We emphatically reject the mischaracterisation of our conduct… Our efforts in combating illicit trade have been aimed at helping law enforcement agencies in the fight against the criminal trade in tobacco products. Acting responsibly and with integrity underpins the foundations of our culture.”
Earlier this year, the UK Serious Fraud Office dropped an investigation into BAT after another BBC report found that the company paid bribes to officials in Rwanda, Burundi and the Comoros Islands in 2015. The UK prosecutors closed the case after the evidence “did not meet the evidential test for prosecution.”