Harare – BAT Zimbabwe has finally denied allegations of espionage levelled against the tobacco cigarette manufacturer by its Zimbabwean competitors.
In a press statement released over the weekend the multinational company said it “strongly denies any involvement in industrial espionage and/or illegal activity that may be linked to other local tobacco manufacturers.”
“It should be underscored that BAT Zimbabwe does not export any cigarettes outside Zimbabwe, and as such, our products are not exposed to the risk of alleged hijackings of cigarette trucks while in transit to neighbouring countries,” said the company adding that its operations does, however, export semi-processed tobacco leaf.
The statement comes in the wake of allegations that BAT Zimbabwe is employing industrial espionage against its Zimbabwean competitors – Kingdom, Savanna Tobacco, Breco (Fodya), Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea.
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe last week joined the chorus when he threatened BAT with unspecified action after accusing the cigarette manufacturer of blocking products of their competitor, Savanna from getting into the market.
“I want you to straighten yourselves, it will be sad if some of you have been taking action or engaging in activities detrimental to Savanna. That information we have and it appears to be authentic,” said Mugabe who accused police and soldiers involvement in the sabotage without naming from which side of the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe were the security details involved in the sabotage.
Meanwhile a local paper The Zimbabwe Independent says it has gathered information showing BAT’s “grimy business practices on the continent.”
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 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.