Former employees of British American Tobacco (BAT) have alleged that the company paid bribes in several African countries, prompting several anti-smoking campaigners to ask the Serious Fraud Office to initiate a criminal investigation. The company could face action under the UK Bribery Act for any bribes paid overseas.
The allegations, which are supported by court documents, point to improper payments to civil servants, senior politicians and individuals involved with the World Health Organization's (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in a bid to impair anti-smoking laws.
Paul Hopkins, a former employee who worked for 13 years in Kenya, said: "I was a commercial hitman. It was explained to me in Africa that's the cost of doing business."
In an interview broadcast on BBC One's Panorama, Hopkins, who previously served in the Irish Special Forces, claims he broke the law for the sake of his company. Before leaving the company, Hopkins recorded conversations with his boss Gary Fagan, BAT's director for East and Central Africa, and company lawyer Naushad Ramoly. Both the recordings show discussions relating to bribes.
In one conversation in 2013, the lawyer had been recorded as saying: "That's what we are going to be paying. Yeah, OK, fine. Anything else that you think we'll need to be paying for?"
The individuals who have been accused of accepting bribes include:
- FCTC representative Godefroid Kamwenubusa from Burundi, $3,000 (£1,989, €2,835);
- FCTC representative Chaibou Bedja Abdou from the Comoros Islands, $3,000;
- Former FCTC representative Bonaventure Nzeyimana from Rwanda, $20,000;
- Moses Watangula, former minister of trade (Kenya), business class return flight for his wife to London;
- Ugandan MP Dr Kasirivu Atwooki, £20,000. He is alleged to have made amendments to a report on a rival company and giving it to BAT in advance.
Apart from Hopkins, the BBC documentary included another whistle-blower. Solomon Muyita, a former lobbyist in Uganda, claimed he was asked to bribe dozens of people. According to Muyita's court documents, David Bahati, a Ugandan MP who proposed an anti-tobacco bill, was bribed to spy on anti-smoking activists.
At a meeting between BAT and Bahati, the MP was in favour of "having most of our views accommodated in the proposed tobacco law". Dr Vera da Costa e Silva, head of the WHO's FCTC secretariat, accused BAT of "using bribery to profit at the cost of people's lives".