CLAIMS that British American Tobacco (BAT) has been involved in corporate espionage in South Africa first surfaced in 2002 when a high court judge granted an Anton Pillar search and seizure order on the company’s local office.
At that time, tobacco rival Apollo, run by millionaire Hennie Delport, claimed that BAT had bugged his office at least three times.
In 2008, a research paper titled “BAT and the insidious impact of illicit trade in cigarettes across Africa”, drew evidence from internal BAT documents to argue that the company had been involved in smuggling cigarettes across Africa while ostensibly campaigning against the illicit trade in tobacco products.
Business Times has obtained documents in which government intelligence officials, understood to be from the State Security Agency, set out their plans for setting up a covert operation, Project Smoke, intended to uncover whether BAT had broken any laws.
The Project Smoke memorandum, marked “Private and confidential”, said that “initial evidence shows that [BAT] has advanced its corporate interests by systematically exploiting strategic opportunities to supply contraband cigarettes throughout Africa”.
The memorandum laid out a plan for finding evidence of BAT’s “complicity ... in the illicit trade in cigarettes”.
“The most effective way to collect information and intelligence within [the] industry is to trade in the market,” it said.
State Security Agency agents “set up” tobacco-related organisations to report on what was going on in the industry.