British American Tobacco (BAT) has moved to tackle allegations that it was involved in spying on competitors and bribing tax and law enforcement officials‚ commissioning an independent probe and ceasing all its activities in South Africa to combat the illicit tobacco trade pending the outcome of the investigation.
BAT South Africa’s new CE‚ Soraya Zoueihid‚ has also terminated‚ as a precaution‚ the services of the private investigations agency‚ Forensic Security Services (FSS)‚ which BAT had retained to assist law enforcement agencies to tackle illicit tobacco‚ but is alleged to have engaged in spying and corrupting law enforcement officials.
FSS was dismissed two weeks ago after allegations of unlawful behaviour were posted on a Twitter account that links to about 12‚000 online documents purporting to support allegations of unlawful conduct by BAT SA.
Zoueihid said in an interview with Business Day on Friday that she had notified the relevant South African authorities of the steps BAT had taken‚ due to the seriousness of the allegations.
"We would not in any way‚ shape or form tolerate such behaviour. We wanted to give a clear sign that we take this very seriously and to assure our suppliers‚ customers and government of this‚" she said.
It is understood Lebanon-born Zoueihid‚ a long-time BAT executive who was previously in charge of the group’s French operation‚ was brought into SA to clean up the operation. She has been working with the group’s global legal advisers and has in the past couple of weeks appointed law firm Norton‚ Rose Fulbright in SA to conduct a "thorough and comprehensive investigation" into the allegations‚ which is likely to take six months or more‚ reports Business Day.