British American Tobacco investigated over bribery claims
British American Tobacco has confirmed that it is the subject of a formal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into allegations that it bribed African officials to gain commercial advantage.
It was understood that the maker of Rothmans and Lucky Strike cigarettes had instructed Slaughter and May, one of the City of London’s “magic circle” law firms to advise on what the fraud investigators described yesterday as “suspicions of corruption”. The FTSE 100 company confirmed to The Lawyer magazine that it had instructed the law firm, although it did not name the partners responsible for advising.
The magazine pointed out that BAT had ditched the rival magic circle Linklaters in favour of Slaughter and May last December when it named the partners Jonathan Cotton, Richard Swallow and Damian Taylor as being in charge of the company’s brief.
The Times reported that the company had been continuing with its own 18-month investigation into the allegations, during which it had been co-operating with the SFO and keeping it informed of progress. The company said that it now intended to co-operate with the agency’s formal investigation after being informed that it was going ahead.
The SFO confirmed it was “investigating suspicions of corruption in the conduct of business by BAT, its subsidiaries and associated persons”, and called on anyone with relevant information to contact them.
The misconduct allegations were first made on a BBC Panorama programme in December 2015, which broadcast claims by a whistleblower, Paul Hopkins, who had worked for the company in Kenya. Describing his role as that of “a commercial hitman”, he told the programme: “BAT is bribing people and I’m facilitating it.”