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REPORT: BAT ‘killing’ Africans with cheap cigarettes

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Fresh revelations by the Guardian UK have further proven that the British American Tobacco (BAT) engaged in widespread bribery and corruption in many African countries to undermine efforts to curb smoking.

The Guardian report detailed how BAT engaged in money laundering and other dubious means to promote sales of its cigarettes in some of the most unstable African countries, including Somalia, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The report revealed that BAT secretly moved millions of US dollars in cash across international borders into the war-torn DRC to support the company’s tobacco leaf operations in that country.

Following these new allegations against BAT, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has urged the US Department of Justice and the US Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate BAT and its subsidiaries for possible violations of the anti-bribery and accounting provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

“The new allegations indicate BAT’s operations included engaging with armed rebels involved in the long-standing DRC conflict in order to make secret cash drops used to pay for tobacco leaf from farmers in Auzi, an unmapped town BAT built in the 1950’s,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a letter to the two US agencies, referring to the Guardian report.

In addition to possible violations of the FCPA, the report raises questions about whether BAT’s conduct in moving US dollars during the DRC conflict also violates federal anti-money laundering laws, especially as the US has had sanctions in place against the DRC since 2006.

The story also exposes BAT’s role in flooding South Sudan with its cheapest cigarette brands following years of war, and operating around terrorist networks in Somalia to continue selling cigarettes in the country.”

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids pointed out in the letter that “growing allegations about BAT’s conduct are particularly alarming following the July 2017 merger of BAT and Reynolds American in the United States.

“The recent merger places BAT in a leading position in the US market and, according to BAT, created the largest tobacco company in the world by operating profits.”

Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, urged US authorities to investigate BAT and ensure that the company is held accountable for any wrongdoing.

“Given British American Tobacco’s decades-long history of calculated deception in the United States and abroad and its re-entry into the US market, the mounting allegations of corruption and mass concealment of funds by BAT must be fully investigated by US regulators for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices  Act and any other applicable criminal or civil laws,” Myers said.

“This is a company that has proven it cannot and will not play by the rules. Unless and until they are held accountable by governments, shareholders, business partners and the public, the company’s wrongdoing will only continue.”

The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has already launched an investigation into the BAT alleged corruption.

Alleged corruption within BAT was first publicly exposed in November 2015 when the BBC, and subsequently other news outlets, revealed allegations that the company was engaging in bribery and other corrupt acts that included bribing Ministry of Health officials in Burundi, Comoros and Rwanda, a former Kenyan Minister of Justice and a Member of Parliament from Uganda.

However, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria had also raised alarm over dubious schemes by tobacco companies to derail the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Act signed into law in 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The CSOs stated that tobacco companies tobacco companies were aggressively targeting the huge youth population in the country, and had resorted to bribing government officials to derail the implementation of the tobacco control law.

“Tobacco use kills more than seven million people worldwide each year,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids warned. “Without urgent action by governments to pass proven tobacco control laws and curb the power and influence of tobacco companies, tobacco use will kill one billion people this century.”

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