One of the largest tobacco companies in the world has been accused of bribing Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe.
City-based British American Tobacco (BAT) was part of negotiations to pay between $300,000 and $500,000 to Zanu-PF, Mugabe’s political party in 2013, according to a BBC Panorama investigation, which will be aired this evening.
Under the rule of Mugabe for almost four decades, Zimbabwe elections were tainted by accusations of fraud and violence, until he was ousted in 2017 and died two years later.
Thousands of leaked documents were uncovered by Panorama as part of a collaborative investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the University of Bath. They also allegedly showed that BAT paid bribes in South Africa and illegally used surveillance against its rivals.
The evidence also revealed that BAT, one of the biggest companies in the UK, financed a network of around 200 covert informers in Southern Africa. This was largely through Forensic Security Services (FSS), a South African private security company which was officially employed by BAT to tackle the black-market cigarette trade.
But former FSS employees admitted to the BBC that they had broken the law to undermine rivals of BAT.
The tobacco giant though said in a statement that it rejected the “mischaracterisation of its anti-illicit trade activity,” and was “committed to the highest standards of corporate conduct and transparency wherever we operate.”
“Allegations of this nature are not new,” the company has insisted.
BAT said it fully co-operated with an investigation by the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which closed in January without charges to BAT, following allegations of misconduct in 2016.
The global tobacco company sold 316bn cigarettes in the first half of 2021, according to Sky News.