The BBC Panorama investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting that one of Britain’s largest companies paid a bribe to former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe.
Documents show that BAT (British American Tobacco) was involved in negotiations to pay between $ 300,000 and $ 500,000 to Mugabe’s party in 2013. Documents reveal that BAT paid bribes in South Africa and used illegal surveillance to harm competitors.
BAT responded that it is committed to the highest standards of corporate behavior.
President Mugabe’s 37-year rule was secured in an election marred by allegations of fraud and violence. He was ousted in 2017, after which he died in 2019. The ruling party (Zanu PF) now has a new leadership.
In a joint investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Reporting and the University of Bath, the BBC Panorama was able to obtain thousands of leaked documents. They show how BAT funded a network of nearly 200 undercover detectives in South Africa.
Most of this work was entrusted to the South African private security company (Forensic Security Services – FSS). The company was officially tasked with cracking down on the black-market cigarette trade, but former BBC staffers said they had broken the law to sabotage BAT rivals.
Internal documents show that in one operation, FCC employees were ordered to close three cigarette factories run by BAT competitors in Zimbabwe.
BAT refused to answer Panorama’s questions about the payments in Zimbabwe, but did not deny paying a bribe to Robert Mugabe.
Evidence shows that customs officers and police officers were bribed and that BAT provided access to information from the police camera network, which was used to spy on its competitors.
The documents show that senior BAT officials in London personally recruited and paid for some of the informants working in competitors’ factories.
BAT’s lawyers said the allegations were not new and that it was not illegal to pay sources to gather information on criminal behavior. They pointed out that the company rejects the claim that any steps have been taken in order to influence the legal activities of legitimate competitors or for commercial gain. “We categorically reject the mischaracterization of our behavior … Our efforts in the fight against illicit trade were aimed at assisting law enforcement agencies in the fight against criminal trafficking in tobacco products.”
This is not the first time BAT has been accused of bribery. In 2015, Panorama revealed that the company was secretly paying politicians and civil servants in East African countries to undermine anti-smoking measures. But this case ended with the conclusion that there was no evidence of criminal prosecution.