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How BAT Conducted Potentially Illegal Activity to undermine Health Policy, Sabotage Competitors and Secure Profits in Africa

New STOP reports reveal how BAT ran a mass surveillance operation and informant network in South Africa and made questionable payments totaling $600,000 in 10 other African countries

Two new analyses of whistleblower documents and court records by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath and published by STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog, suggest that British American Tobacco PLC (BAT) allegedly used payments to dozens of individuals and potentially unlawful surveillance to tighten its already crushing market grip on Africa.

The reports—one on the company’s activities in several East and Central African countries, another on its aggressive tactics in South Africa—reveal that BAT appeared to be operating “as if it were above the law,” according to the report on South Africa, to sell cigarettes to Africans—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.

Commenting on the reports’ findings, Akinbode Oluwafemi, 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. “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.”

Buying Influence and Advantage in Africa: An Analysis of British American Tobacco’s Questionable Payments is based on leaked documents—including internal emails and invoices—and court affidavits from two former employees-turned-whistleblowers. It details BAT’s activities between 2008 and 2013 across 10 Central and East African countries. 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.

Buying Influence and Advantage in Africa: Evidence from 10 Countries

In January 2021 the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) concluded its five-year investigation into alleged bribery by the company 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.

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