Calls for BATSA to be probed for alleged complicity in African cigarette smuggling and terror funding

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Illegal cigarette trade. (Photo: iStock)
Illegal cigarette trade. (Photo: iStock)
  • A report claims that British American Tobacco (BAT) oversupplied Mali, knowing that its products, which were largely manufactured in South Africa, would fall in the hands of smugglers 
  • It also claims that profits from that would end up with offshoots of al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State (IS)
  • The Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association and the South African Tobacco Association have called for BATSA to be investigated, while the company says it is opposed to the illegal trade in tobacco.

Cigarette lobby groups have called for British American Tobacco SA (BATSA), to be investigated by authorities after a report allegedly linked the multinational to smuggling activity in Mali. 

The report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) claims that BAT oversupplied Mali, knowing that its products, which were largely Dunhill cigarettes manufactured in South Africa, would fall in the hands of smugglers to make its way to North Africa. According to the OCCRP, profits from that smuggling end up with offshoots of al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State in Mali. 

The South African Tobacco Association (SATO) said the findings from the report that a majority of the smuggled contraband cigarettes sold in Mali came from South Africa, was "a slap in the face for the South African economy and the country at large". 

"We call upon the authorities to stringently investigate the role of the South African division of the tobacco giant and clamp down hard on any element of criminal activity," SATO said in a statement. 

The Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) said it supported the view "advanced by independent academics and researchers that big tobacco cannot and should not be trusted when it comes to understanding the illicit trade". 

"They have repeatedly been caught with their pants down while pointing fingers at competitors," FITA said in a statement.

It too called for "relevant authorities" to investigate the company. 

When approached for comment, BATSA referred Fin24 to the comments made by the global BAT to the OCCRP. 

'Robust policies and procedures'

A spokesperson told the OCCRP that the multinational was opposed to the illegal trade in tobacco, which was a "serious, highly organised crime".

"At BAT, we have established anti-illicit trade teams operating at global and local levels. We also have robust policies and procedures in place to fight this issue and fully support regulators, governments and international organisations in seeking to eliminate all forms of illicit trade," the OCCRP report quoted the BAT spokesperson as saying. 

According to the OCCRP report, a BAT presentation from 2017 highlighted the "extremist insurgency" in eight of Mali's regions and that three of them "remain completely dangerous to operate within owing to terrorist activities."

The report, however, says that a BAT internal strategy memo from 2015 showed how it planned to increase its business in these regions, including by incentivising the state-owned National Society of Tobacco and Matches of Mali (Sonatam) to meet sales targets in areas including insurgency-run regions.

"As we know, in a dark market, the war is won on the battlefield with no pity for our competitors," the memo read, according to the OCCRP.

The OCCRP report said a BAT spokesperson declined to comment on the documents without seeing them, but was quoted as saying that they were not aware of the phrase "dark market" relating to illicit trade.

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