Johannesburg – JSE-listed conglomerate British American Tobacco (BAT) and the private security firm it has contracted have been accused of running a scheme of bribing South African police officers, spying on competitors using police cameras, and even sourcing confidential business information on one of its rivals from officials in the SA Revenue Service (Sars).
The latest explosive allegations against BAT are contained in a sworn affidavit made by a former employee of Forensic Security Services (FSS), a private security outfit run by former apartheid era intelligence agent Stephen Botha.
According to the affidavit, a copy of which has been leaked online along with scores of other documents that purport to prove BAT’s unlawful spying on local competitors, BAT pays FSS about R150m a year, ostensibly to help fight the illegal cigarette trade in South Africa.
However, if the former FSS employee is to be believed, FSS, with the full blessing of senior BAT executives, had instead been running a massive unlawful spying and disruption programme aimed at ensuring it kept hold of the lion’s share of South Africa’s multi billion rand tobacco market.
The former FSS employee’s affidavit forms part of a high court application against BAT by Carnilinx, a producer and distributor of cheaper cigarette brands.
“In hindsight, the purpose of my employment was for BATSA (BAT’s South African filial) to deploy my investigative skills together with backup from corrupt SAPS and SARS officials in order to disrupt the business of BATSA’s competitors, Carnilinx being one of them,” reads an excerpt from the affidavit.
The ex FSS employee then goes on to claim, in startling detail, how BAT and FSS allegedly broke the law.
Some of the most shocking allegations contained in the affidavit include the following claims:
* BAT and FSS ran a secret bribery programme, in accordance with the strategies contained in a BAT document entitled the Project Management Plan (PMP), whereby law enforcement officials were “paid up to R5 000 a month for co-operating with FSS and BATSA in disturbing Carnilinx’s trading operations”.
The affidavit goes on to explain that police officials were often fed false information by members of FSS’s network of agents across the country, which then prompted police to harass and even arrest Carnilinx employees on suspicion of being in possession of illegal tobacco products.
“Thus, each law enforcement agent, whether it is from SARS, JMPD (Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department) or SAPS, would be on BATSA’s informal payroll, receiving a minimum of R2 000 each per month up to R5 000 per month. Effectively, this was a bribe by BATSA to corrupt police officials who it regarded as trusted,” reads the affidavit.
* FSS ran an extensive unlawful spying programme in order to monitor Carnilinx distribution vehicles, facilities and employees. This included securing the use of an entire CCTV room at the JMPD’s CCTV monitoring facility in Johannesburg by means of an agreement with the company that manages the control rooms on behalf of the City of Johannesburg (CoJ).
“(The company running the control rooms) has made available to FSS, since approximately 2012, an entire room for FSS(‘s) sole usage which would allow FSS access to all of the City’s cameras. This then gave FSS an opportunity to obtain footage of all vehicles that were used by Carnilinx, together with their registration numbers. A special camera, camera number 5, was strategically positioned so as to allow FSS to view Carnilinx’s premises,” the ex FSS employee alleges.
* A senior SARS official, whose name is mentioned in the affidavit, was in “constant communication” with FSS staff.
“BATSA had arranged for SARS . . . to arrange regular monthly inspections at Carnilinx. During the course of the inspection, Carnilinx would deliver to SARS . . . all the production sheets, reports of production, confidential information . . . as well as sales figures,” reads the affidavit, which then goes on to claim that the SARS employee had regularly met with a FSS agent at “the Wimpy in Edenvale”, where all of Carnilinx’s business information was given to the FSS agent by the SARS official.
According to the affidavit, senior BATSA employees, all named in the document, would ultimately take possession of the Carnilinx documents.
* FSS unlawfully placed tracking devices on Carnilinx’s delivery trucks in order to track their movements. The purpose of this according to the affidavit, included “to keep a monitor on the vehicle whilst it is moving so as to communicate with the relevant law enforcement officers such as SAPS, JMPD and SARS officials to stop the truck on the highway, seize the goods and arrest the drivers”.
The ex FSS employee also explains in details how the tracking devices were put on the vehicles by a FSS operative, who is named in the affidavit, mostly at night.
“(Name of FSS employee) would wear an all-black cat suit on such occasions and all persons present with him would be required to wear gloves.”
A BATSA spokesperson says the company will “under no circumstances… condone illegal behaviour”.
The company says it is “currently involved in litigation with certain manufacturers, who have made claims that some of our activities went beyond our legitimate interest in combating the illicit (tobacco) trade”.
“We are conducting an investigation with the assistance of an external law firm and if we were to find that illegal activity had occurred, we would, of course, take appropriate action,” says the spokesperson.
The company did not want to provide detailed comment on the allegations raised in the affidavit.
“. . . given that our investigation is ongoing and that some of the allegations are the subject of legal proceedings, it would not be appropriate for us to comment any further on them.
In a statement issued by its media office, Sars maintained that it “considers any alleged act of corruption, whether perceived or actual, in a serious light”. It did not respond in detail to queries around the Sars officials’ alleged involvement in providing Carnilinx’s business information to BATSA.
“The department will not dignify any enquiry based on information which you are unlawfully in possession of with a response,” said SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Mashadi Selepe.
“Any such allegations will be investigated by the authority competent to do so in accordance with the laws of our country,” added Selepe.
The JMPD and FSS were approached for comment, but neither provided any feedback to News24’s queries.
Article by: Pieter-Louis Myburgh and Angelique Serrao, News24