The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco
In late 2015, BBC Panorama featured a programme entitled “The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco” which revealed the bribery surrounding the operations of British American Tobacco (BAT) in some Central and East African countries. The investigation was based on the revelations of a whistleblower, Paul Hopkins, who worked for BAT in Kenya for 13 years. BAT, the fifth largest company in the United Kingdom which sold 667 billion cigarettes in 2014 and made a profit of 4.5 billion pounds, deliberately engaged in damaging rival tobacco business companies and corrupting parliamentarians and senior government officials who were delegates to high-level meetings of the World Health Organization where the FCTC was being discussed. In so doing, BAT tried to undermine tobacco control laws of African countries and the WHO efforts to implement the FCTC and save millions of lives from the devastating effects of tobacco consumption.
Several cases of bribery were documented and mentioned in the programme:
- A senior government representative from Burundi to the WHO meetings on the FCTC allegedly received $ 3,000 from BAT in exchange of the draft tobacco control law and to support the industry’s views at the International Negotiating Body (INB) organized under the auspices of the WHO;
- Another senior government representative from Rwanda to FCTC meetings allegedly received $ 20,000 from BAT and a third one from Comoros received $ 3,000, again to undermine the work of the WHO on tobacco control;
-A local Member of Parliament of Uganda allegedly received a bribe of $ 25,000 for sharing a report on a rival tobacco company and amending it;
- A Member of Parliament from Uganda, who proposed the tobacco control bill in Parliament, allegedly received thousands of dollars from BAT to “infiltrate, influence and spy” on tobacco control activists and accommodate BAT views in the tobacco control law; and
- A former Minister of Trade of Kenya was allegedly paid a business class return flight to London for his wife by BAT.
The head of the WHO FCTC secretariat, Dr Vera da Costa e Silva, accused BAT of “using bribery to profit at the cost of people’s lives.”
"BAT is bribing people, and I'm facilitating it," Paul Hopkins said. He added: "The reality is if... they have to break the rules, they will break the rules."
The report commented that BAT does not always meet its claims of being a law-abiding company with very high standards of corporate conduct. “The problem for BAT is the evidence of illegal behavior keeps coming” it says.
Regional response: ATCA issued a press release denouncing the unlawful and unethical behavior of BAT in view of buying support against national public health policies in Central and East African countries and derailing the work of the WHO on the FCTC, the most successful international treaty in the history of the United Nations, having been ratified by more than 180 countries. ATCA called on decision-makers in these countries to investigate into the matter and, if necessary, sanction such acts in accordance with their national laws.
. Paul Hopkins, the whistleblower, met investigators of the Serious Fraud Office in the UK in December last to submit evidence of the bribery carried out by BAT in African countries.
. Nine Members of American Congress called on the Department of Justice to investigate whether BAT engaged in widespread bribery of foreign officials in Central and East Africa, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
“If true, these allegations would demonstrate a deplorable choice by BAT to balloon its profits through bribery at the expense of the health of millions,” said Congressman Lloyd Doggett, one of the Congress members who made the call for investigation.
“If true, the allegations lodged against BAT are an affront to public health and United States law,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal who also made the call.
- The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco: BBC Panorama
- British American Tobacco accused of bribing senior politicians in order to sabotage anti-smoking laws- The Independent
- British American Tobacco accused of bribing government officials- The Guardian.