AS tales emerge that British American Tobacco Zimbabwe Holdings (BATZ) Ltd is employing industrial espionage against its competitors — Kingdom, Savanna Tobacco, Breco (Fodya), Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea — more information has surfaced suggesting this is the group’s modus operandi in other markets in Africa.
Report by Chris Muronzi
Information gathered by the Zimbabwe Independent this week shows the first country to blow the whistle on BAT’s grimy business practices on the continent, South Africa, discovered startling evidence while investigating the leading tobacco company.
According to a report by Premium Times of Nigeria, in April 2002 a legal team from the South African city of Port Elizabeth secretly obtained urgent court orders in three South African High Courts authorising them to raid the offices of BAT, South African Revenue Services (Sars) and a firm of private detectives called Forensic Security Services — the same firm believed to be covertly running the company’s local operation with the help of a Zimbabwean security company, Ticoz Protection Services.
The investigation eventually opened a can of worms and gave the public a glimpse of how BAT ran its businesses.
The investigations came in the wake of phone-tapping and industrial espionage allegations levelled by Pretoria-based cigarette manufacturing company Apollo Tobacco, against BAT, Sars and Forensic Security Services.
On April 9, three High Court judges ordered searches at BAT offices in Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria as well as the offices of the Sars and Forensic Security Services, a private investigating firm allegedly hired by BAT.
In a 95-page court application, Apollo Tobacco accused BAT of plotting with tax authorities and private detectives in “industrial espionage”.
Apollo alleged BAT conspired with the Sars officials using hired detectives and bugging devices to obtain confidential information about Apollo’s business operations.
The raids on BAT offices yielded incriminating documents from seized computers.After a week of silence, BAT denied it had done “anything that was aimed at undermining Apollo Tobacco’s legitimate business”, admitting however they had sent allegations to the proper authorities — in this case Sars.BATZ has also denied involvement in espionage activities.
According to the Premium Times extensive report, the secret surveillance of Apollo began when BAT, which had a business presence in 180 countries and was the market leader in 50 countries, formed BAT South Africa in 1999 as a result of the global merger of Rothmans International and British American Tobacco plc.
Detectives claimed in some cases the phone tapping was a prerequisite for payments from BAT. Apollo’s phones were bugged for as long as two months – at a time – and the tapping took place on at least three occasions.