On Monday, the BBC reported that it found evidence to suggest British American Tobacco (BAT) sabotaged competitors in South Africa and in Zimbabwe, and paid a bribe to the late former president Robert Mugabe.
In a joint investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the University of Bath, BBC obtained thousands of leaked documents. According to the broadcaster, this included information of almost 200 secret informants in southern Africa.
According to the BBC, BAT was paying bribes in South Africa and using illegal surveillance to "damage rivals", with most of this work outsourced to a South African company called Forensic Security Services (FSS).
According to the BBC report, FSS tapped the phones of BAT's competitors, placed tracking devices on their delivery vehicles and bribed staff to hand over information.
South African company records show that FSS is registered in KwaZulu-Natal, with affiliates in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. No directors are listed for the companies. FSS worked for BAT between 2000 and 2016, the BBC reported.
"FSS was officially tasked with fighting the black-market cigarette trade, however former employees have told the BBC that they broke the law to sabotage BAT's rivals," the British broadcaster reported. "Internal documents show in one operation, FSS staff were instructed to close down three cigarette factories run by BAT's competitors in Zimbabwe."
BAT rejected the BBC allegations, but told the broadcaster that it was not unlawful to pay sources to gather information about criminal behaviour.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, the tobacco group said the allegations included in the reports were not new.
"Allegations being made regarding BAT’s anti-illicit trade activities have been covered extensively in various news media over several years," it said.
"The criminal illicit cigarette trade has a significant, detrimental effect on society and should be the focus of collective effort and attention by all stakeholders."
Earlier this year, the UK Serious Fraud Office dropped an investigation into BAT after another BBC report found that the company paid bribes to officials in Rwanda, Burundi and the Comoros Islands in 2015. The UK prosecutors closed the case after the evidence “did not meet the evidential test for prosecution.”
*Update: This article has been updated to include further feedback from BAT.