A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the University of Bath and BBC Panorama suggests BAT may have paid a bribe to Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe, reports the BBC.
The investigators obtained leaked documents suggesting BAT funded a network of secret informants to undermine its competitors in southern Africa.
One of its contractors was Forensic Security Services (FSS) of South Africa. Officially tasked with fighting the black market cigarette trade, former employees told the BBC that they broke the law to sabotage BAT’s rivals.
FSS paid a local firm to conduct surveillance on a Savanna Tobacco factory in 2012, but the company got caught. Three of its directors were charged in connection with illegal surveillance.
The joint investigation suggests bribes were paid to secure the release of the directors.
BAT denied the accusations. “We emphatically reject the mischaracterization of our conduct,” the company said in a statement. “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.”
BAT’s lawyers said it was not unlawful to pay sources to gather information about criminal behavior.
They said the company rejects the allegation that any steps were taken with the aim of impacting the lawful activities of legitimate competitors or for commercial advantage.