An investigation by BBC Panorama has found evidence that suggests one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, British American Tobacco (BAT), bribed the late Robert Mugabe to have its illegal surveillance charges dropped.
Leaked documents show that BAT contracted a South African private security company, Forensic Security Services (FSS) to sabotage BAT’s rivals. Officially, FSS was contracted to fight the black-market cigarette trade, however former employees told the BBC that the security company broke the law to sabotage BAT’s rivals.
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In one operation, FSS staff were instructed to close down three cigarette factories run by BAT’s competitors in Zimbabwe. FSS paid an unnamed Zimbabwean firm to conduct surveillance on a Savanna Tobacco factory in 2012, but the company got caught.
Three of the firm’s directors were charged in connection with the illegal surveillance. The arrests prompted the then president, Robert Mugabe, to make a speech condemning the men’s actions and BAT’s suspected involvement. A man who was sent by BAT to negotiate a deal with Mugabe who spoke to Panorama said he bribed a number of government officials to secure a meeting to discuss the arrested directors’ case.
Documents seen by the BBC confirm that the man was provided with the equivalent of US$12,000 in local currency. They also suggest the money for the bribes was provided by BAT. A memo suggested that the amount of the donation would be in the region of between USD300,000 to USD500,000 to Zanu PF.
While the leaked documents do not show if the bribe was paid, the three directors were released within days of the deal being offered. BBC reports that BAT declined to answer Panorama’s questions about the Zimbabwe payments, but it did not deny paying a bribe to Robert Mugabe.
It is against UK law for a British company to pay bribes, no matter where the payment takes place.