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BAT faces prosecution for ‘bribing’ government officials in African countries
Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has called for full prosecution of British American Tobacco (BAT), a UK tobacco company, for allegedly bribing politicians and government officials to suppress regulations and health warnings against cigarette-smoking in many African countries.
This call came after formal investigations launched by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into the company’s alleged bribing of local officials to gain market share and capture the growing youth population in Africa.
The SFO announced Monday that it was “investigating suspicions of corruption in the conduct of business by BAT p.l.c, its subsidiaries and associated persons”. It also solicited assistance on the investigation from the public, and provided a “secure and confidential reporting channel for relevant information“.
BAT is the market leader in Nigeria, with brand such as as Dunhill, Pall Mall, Benson & Hedges, Rothmans, St. Moritz, Consulate, London King Size, Sweet Menthol, Royal Standard, and Excel Three Rings.
“The allegations that British American Tobacco paid illegal bribes to influence members of parliament and gain advantage over competitors in multiple African countries are truly shocking,” Myers said on Tuesday while reacting to the latest development.
“British American Tobacco should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he added, urging the US Department of Justice “to also investigate the company’s alleged misconduct, especially as BAT recently merged with Reynolds American and now operates one of the largest publicly traded tobacco companies in the US”.
Myers stated that the investigation into BAT’S bribery and other illegal activity “is a reminder to the public that tobacco companies cannot be trusted” adding that it should “prompt governments to stand up to the industry and take strong action to reduce tobacco use and save lives.”
BBC reports that the allegation of bribing government officials to influence laws around tobacco use was first made in 2015 by the former staff of the company.
In May, civil society organisations in Nigeria raised alarm over dubious schemes by tobacco companies to derail the implementation of the National Tobacco Control (NTC) Act signed into law in 2015 by Goodluck Jonathan, the former President.
Although British America Tobacco was not specifically mentioned, the CSOs accused tobacco companies of coercing government officials to advocate on their behalf, interfering in policy making through trade committees and third parties, and aggressively lobbying and bribing policymakers.
NTC Act has not been implemented after two years of being signed into law as the Ministry of Health, through the National Tobacco Control Committee (NATOCC), is still working out modalities for the implementation of the Act. The activities of the committee had seriously been criticised by people who were believed to be sponsored by the tobacco industry.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health launched a campaign to ban smoking in public places, including motor parks, shopping malls and health care centres in June, but there has been little and no awareness of the campaign.
Section 9 of the NTC Act stipulates fine of at least N50,000 and/or six-month imprisonment for offenders but there is no record of anybody who has been arrested for smoking in public place.
The World Health Organisation estimates that worldwide, second-hand tobacco smoke is currently responsible for the deaths of about 600,000 people yearly, 80 per cent of which occur in low-income and middle-income countries like Nigeria.
Investigations by the BBC, Guardian UK and Reuters have revealed how British America Tobacco and other tobacco companies bribe government officials in Africa to capture the growing number of young people as Western countries tighten control on tobacco use.
There are an estimated 77 million smokers in Africa and those numbers are predicted to rise by nearly 40% from 2010 levels by 2030, which is the largest projected such increase in the world, according to the Guardian.