Industrial espionage, a common practice in developed nations appears to have made inroads in Zimbabwe.
Information seen by businessdigest this week shows that big tobacco business housed under the Tobacco Institute of South Africa hired former apartheid spies to collect information on indigenous Zimbabwean tobacco companies.
An affidavit lodged by a director of a local security company, Forest Security Services (FSS), who has been a contact person for Forensic Security Services, a South African company accused of spying on indigenously-owned Zimbabwean tobacco companies, says the South Africans set up a base and radio communications to track and monitor indigenous Zimbabwean companies.
Brian Kashangura’s affidavit, seen by businessdigest, says FSS of South Africa contracted his company in August 2010 and agreed to consult on issues of illicit manufacture, distribution and smuggling of cigarettes and tobacco-related products from Zimbabwe to Sadc countries.
After the contract expired in August 2011, Kashangura says FSS wanted to renew it. When FSS sent the new contract to him, he says he sent it to his lawyers for perusal.
According to Kashangura, he observed the new contract omitted all tobacco brands of British American Tobacco(BAT), Zimbabwe.
BATZ stands accused of spying on its competitors and engaging in industrial espionage, a charge the company denies.
“A draft with amendments to include BAT cigarettes was prepared and FSS refused to sign it and it became the services they wanted us to render would be heavily tilted in favour of BAT at the expense of other local manufacturers,” Kashangura’s affidavit reads.
“As we were haggling with FSS to amend the agreement to be all-encompassing, it came to my knowledge that FSS had established parallel structures and were working outside the confines of the Zimbabwean law in that they were bringing in South Africans to do surveillance without authorisation or work permits, which amounts to espionage, but I did not have concrete proof.”
Kashangura says on January 21 this year, he received a call from Ian McDermid, an official of FSS notifying him of his arrest. Mcdermid, he says, wanted legal assistance.
“I then sent my legal practitioner to establish what the problem was, only to discover that FSS had established a base and rented a house number 2877, Seventh avenue, Warren Park where South Africans would come up, reside, set up their radio communication equipment and spy on the movement of tobacco products from indigenous Zimbabwean manufacturers,” reads the affidavit.
The case number is CID Law & Order E.R 9/12.
Other information shows that a shareholder in one of the country’s largest transport and logistics groups’ was also in on the spying.
The business tycoon reportedly flew Kashangura in May 2010 to Johannesburg and introduced him to former apartheid era spy at his expense.
The businessman, according to sources, placed informers on behalf of FSS in all his depots to monitor movements of cigarettes from indigenous tobacco companies that used his courier services.
It is said FSS top management have a strong relationship with the tycoon which they established after his legal problems in South Africa.
Now, FSS is said to be working with another local security company —Ticoz Protection Services — to spy on indigenous tobacco manufacturers.
Ticoz Director of Operations a T Tirivavi confirmed working with FSS.
“The position is that we are licensed private investigators and we do not do industrial espionage, whatever that is, but we investigate cigarette smuggling and pass on the information to the CID Border Control Unit who then make arrests and this they can confirm. The brief background is that in June 2010 Forest Security Private Limited owned by Brian Kashangura entered into an agreement with Forensic Security Services of South Africa to investigate cigarette smuggling from Zimbabwe and pass the information to FSS,” he said. “The major point to note is that the founders and staff of Ticoz Protection Services were employed by Kashangura on this project. This went on until March 2012 when FSS terminated their contract with Kashangura for reasons which we did not know since we were mere employees. By this time, we had formed and registered Ticoz Protection Services as a fallback position.”
Tirivavi says FSS then engaged the services of Ticoz Protection Services because it had the experience.
“As Ticoz, we then resolved that we would pass our information to Zimbabwean law enforcement agents since there is a unit mandated specifically to police the country’s borders hence our close relationship with C.I.D Border Control Unit,” he said.
Tirivavi denied being involved in industrial espionage, saying if there had been any industrial espionage, it might have happened during the Forest Security era “when the involvement of Zimbabwean law enforcement agents was minimal.”
He added: “As Ticoz, we do not choose cigarette smugglers but we give the police information on any cigarette smuggling we detect, as such we do not know about competition between companies but we know about smugglers and smuggling.”
Zimbabwe is investigating economic espionage involving around R100 million worth of cigarettes local companies reportedly lost to armed syndicates in transit to South Africa over the past year.
The allegations arose after Savanna Tobacco, Kingdom, Breco trading as Fodya Private Limited, Trednet, Catrag and Chelsea lost cigarettes worth R100 million to organised hijacks.
BAT has been fingered in corporate espionage elsewhere.
A Nigerian newspaper, Premium Times, recently reported that in April 2002 a team of lawyers from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, obtained court orders in three South African High Courts authorising them to raid the offices of BAT, South African Revenue Services (SARS) and FSS after a local competitor said he suspected phone tapping and corporate espionage tactics.
The paper also said Apollo, a South African cigarette manufacturer, alleged that BAT conspired with SARS, the country’s revenue authority, officials to hire detectives and install bugging devices to obtain confidential information about Apollo’s business operations. — Staff Writer