Cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco (BAT) is caught up in yet another bribery scam in Zimbabwe, just a few years after the firm was reported to have bribed a local environmental official in Uganda to misreport the impact from a fire at one of its warehouses in the East African country.
ChimpReports has learned that a contractor hired by one of Britain’s biggest companies brokered a proposed corrupt pay-off for ex Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe shortly before his 2013 re-election.
A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, BBC Panorama and the University of Bath reveals British American Tobacco (BAT) was linked to a conspiracy to pay a bribe of between $300,000 and $500,000 to the notorious dictator to get certain people released from jail.
Leaked documents suggest there were discussions about paying a bribe to Mugabe’s political party Zanu-PF.
At the time BAT was paying FSS, a South African private security contractor, to conduct a secret operation to hamper rival tobacco businesses in Zimbabwe.
FSS had fallen foul of Mugabe’s regime after agents were accused of spying on its behalf on Savanna Tobacco, which was run by Adam Molai, the husband of Mugabe’s niece.
It was forced to rely on a local security company to do its dirty work. But in late 2012 three directors of that company were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit robbery. The documents show that a plan was hatched with BAT’s knowledge to get the directors off the hook and protect BAT’s name.
The bribe was proposed by Brigadier General Asher Walter Tapfumaneyi, currently the deputy director general of Zimbabwe’s feared Central Intelligence Organisation spy network. At the time he was director at the Ministry of State of Presidential Affairs.
The man who brokered the deal has told the Bureau and BBC’s Panorama he had already bribed Zimbabwean officials to get an initial meeting with the brigadier.
“I had to make it clear that they’re going to expect a nice thick envelope of notes,” he said. “I would be given a lump sum of money as an operational budget and out of that I would always give a handshake and a nice wodge of cash to the principals just to warm them to the idea.”
Allegations of bribery by BAT are not new.
Solomon Muyita, an ex-employee of British American Tobacco Uganda (Batu), claimed that the tobacco firm bribed a local environmental official to misreport the impact from a fire at one of its warehouses in Uganda.
“The cigarette group bribed an official to secure a report stating there was no harmful impact from the fire,” FT reported.
Mr Muyita further claimed that the British company paid off victims in Uganda who allegedly suffered chemical poisoning in a separate incident.
The bribery scams at BAT units in Kenya and Uganda were unearthed by BBC’s Panorama programme.
Mr Paul Hopkins, who worked for BAT Kenya for 13 years, leaked hundreds of secret documents to a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) editorial team implicating the multinational in the bribery of government officials in Kenya and other African countries.
The allegations come after Julie Adell-Owino, a former BAT Kenya lobbyist, was alleged to have organised payment of bribes to senior government officials, including Mr Wetang’ula, for reasons that were not explained.