Espionage case, net closes in on British American Tobacco

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THE net is closing in on officials from British American Tobacco (BAT) and other companies accused of collaborating with South African tobacco firms to engage in corporate espionage to sabotage local cigarette manufacturers.

Police detectives close to the probe said investigations were at an advanced stage and more leads were unfolding.

“Investigations are underway and they are at an advanced stage. The matter is being dealt with by the CID Law and Order,” a senior police officer said yesterday.

He could not shed more light fearing to prejudice investigations.

Harare provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tadius Chibanda confirmed that investigations were continuing saying they would release details once they were through with the matter.
“As soon as we crackdown on the people we suspect are involved in this case, we will let you know,” he said.

On Wednesday, President Mugabe expressed concern over allegations that BAT was collaborating with South African tobacco firms to sabotage local cigarette exporters.
He said those involved would face the wrath of the law.
The Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces said police were already investigating the matter.

He was speaking at the official launch of the BAT employee share ownership scheme.
The President said security informed him recently on the goings-on at the company.

The President’s remarks came in the wake of reports that South African tobacco firms could be hiring hijackers to pounce on export cigarette consignments in transit to that country.

In the past years or so, indigenous cigarette manufacturers exporting to South Africa lost an estimated R100 million worth of their products to the organised armed gangs.
Among the hardest-hit firms are Savanna Tobacco, Breco (Fodya Private Limited), Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea.

BAT, which dominated the tobacco market for decades, is spared from the hijackings.
The syndicate also involves former policemen, military, intelligence individuals, Zimra officials and the judiciary.

Investigations by The Herald recently show that one of the country’s leading courier services provider was reportedly co-ordinating the espionage.

BAT Zimbabwe spokesperson Ms Shungu Chirunda last Wednesday, denied claims that the firm was involved in any possible espionage to fend off stiff competition.

On Sunday BAT also placed a statement in the media denying the allegations.

Reads the statement in part ; “Allegations in the media state that competitor products destined for South Africa have been hijacked, with only BAT Zimbabwe products having been spared. It should be underscored that BAT Zimbabwe does not export any cigarettes outside of the country, and as such, our products are not exposed to the risk of alleged hijackings of cigarettes trucks while in transit to neighbouring countries. Our operation does, however, export semi-processed tobacco leaf.”

Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri recently said the suspected industrial espionage in which South African companies reportedly hire hijackers to steal export cigarette consignments in transit was an inside job by local tobacco companies.

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