British American Tobacco (BAT) has come under scrutiny in the U.K. for its links to the Neman Tobacco Factory in Belarus, reports Inews.
The state-owned Neman Tobacco Factory in Grodno carries out production for BAT, making products such as Rothmans and Pall Mall for its domestic market.
Around 10 percent of the 5.5 billion cigarettes sold illegally each year in the U.K. are estimated to have come from Belarus. Experts claim most are made at the Neman factory.
Recent police seizures of smuggled stock in the U.K. included illicit packets bearing Neman logos and Belarusian health warnings.
According to Olaf, the EU-wide counter-fraud organization, Belarus is one of the main source countries for cigarettes smuggled into the EU.
There is no suggestion BAT is aware of any illicit trade, and the firm said it has “strong controls” to stop its products entering the black market.
“We are satisfied that BAT Belarus applies all the relevant BAT group policies and procedures with regard to combating illicit trade to ensure that products manufactured by GTF Neman under BAT Group’s trademarks are consumed in the Republic of Belarus,” a BAT spokesperson was quoted as saying by Inews.
Critics have questioned whether BAT should be maintaining ties with Belarus, which has violently cracked down on protests following a rigged election in August 2020.
“It is outrageous that a major British company continues to have a close relationship with a Belarusian plant, which is 100 percent owned by a Lukashenko regime that tortures its own people,” said a spokesperson for the pro-democracy group Nadzeya-UK.