South Africa's largest tobacco producer, British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) says it "completely" supports calls for a Commission of Inquiry into the illegal cigarette trade in the country.
BATSA was last week fingered by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project's (OCCRP) report as a beneficiary of illicit tobacco trade in Mali. The OCCRP report alleged that almost all of the cigarettes smuggled to Mali came from South Africa, which led to calls for a Commission of Inquiry from rival tobacco industry bodies, the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) and the South African Tobacco Organisation (SATO).
- READ | Calls for BATSA to be probed for alleged complicity in African cigarette smuggling and terror funding
The two groups, made up of tobacco manufacturers in Africa, alleged that they have previously seen multiple transgressions committed globally by BATSA and called upon authorities to investigate BATSA.
But on Monday BATSA responded by pointing fingers right back at FITA and SATO.
In a statement, FITA said it would welcome an inquiry, adding that this was likely the best mechanism to find the real traders of illegal cigarettes. The tobacco giant said cigarette brands of FITA and SATO members, including Remington Gold, were, by far, "the most likely to be found on sale illegally in the country", since the lockdown paved a way for criminal cartels to ruthlessly exploit the country’s tobacco sales ban.
"The FITA/SATO coalition say they want an investigation. So, let’s have one," said BATSA General Manager Johnny Moloto in a statement.
Moloto added that this issue was of "utmost national importance" and deserved a fully resourced investigation or Commission of Inquiry with real powers.
BATSA has been arguing that since the tobacco ban, illegally traded tobacco brands have maintained their grip on the market and that SA now has one of the biggest illegal cigarette markets in the world.