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BBC Investigation: British American Tobacco Bribed Government Officials in Africa to Undermine Life-Saving Measures

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 02, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An investigative report broadcast yesterday by the BBC disclosed extensive evidence, supported by previously secret documents, that British American Tobacco (BAT), Britain’s fifth-largest company, paid illegal bribes to influence members of parliament, gain advantage over competitors and undermine life-saving tobacco control policies in multiple African countries.

The BBC report is truly shocking. It shows BAT’s complete disregard for the laws of the countries in which it operates. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids calls on the government of the United Kingdom to immediately open an investigation to determine if BAT should be prosecuted under the U.K.’s Bribery Act, the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and each African government involved to open a criminal investigation under its laws.

The BBC investigation – which is based on documents, email records, voice recordings, and other evidence compiled by a former BAT employee – provides more than enough evidence to prompt government prosecutors in the U.K., the U.S. and the African countries featured in the report to initiate civil and criminal investigations into BAT’s practices. The U.K. and the U.S. laws against bribery to influence government officials apply to actions British companies engage in anywhere in the world. Although BAT is a U.K.-based company, it is subject to U.S. laws criminalizing bribery because it trades its stock on the New York Stock Exchange.

The BBC report also reminds governments that they must be ever-vigilant against the tobacco industry’s efforts to defeat life-saving measures to reduce tobacco use. Rather than giving in to the industry, governments must implement proven measures that protect the health of their citizens from the dangers of tobacco, as called for by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty that has been ratified by 179 nations and the European Union. All the countries featured in the BBC investigation are parties to this treaty.

The BBC report, titled “The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco,” reveals a pattern of bribery by BAT employees designed to influence lawmakers in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi as they debated and implemented policies to reduce tobacco use. The report examines evidence that government officials provided confidential information to BAT representatives in exchange for money and gifts, BAT illegally used payments to obtain information about competitors in at least one country, and company executives not only knew about the bribes but acknowledged that they were illegal.

Tobacco use kills six million people worldwide each year and is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century unless countries take effective action. The vast majority of these deaths will occur in low- and middle-income countries like those featured in the BBC investigation. As the BBC broadcast stated, “BAT bribes undermined a United Nations campaign to save lives.”