South African Tobacco Mercenaries

Flag_of_South_Africa.svg.pngIn the beginning of the year I covered the story of a whistleblower named Paul Hopkins, a former member of the Irish special operations unit who had worked for British American Tobacco (BAT) in Africa for over 13 years. Hopkins revealed to the BBC that as a part of his operations in the continent, he regularly bribed law enforcement officials and harassed local rival tobacco manufacturers.
Specifically, he shared emails exposing illegal payments he made to two members and one former member of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), to undermine their efforts against the damages caused to the public health by the tobacco industry. Details of his operations, as described by the BBC and the Independent newspaper were disturbing, given the likelihood that this is only the tip of the iceberg of BAT’s schemes in Africa.
So you shouldn’t be shocked by the fact that in the past month or so, a new major scandal relating to BAT has surfaced, this time, in South Africa. Under the infamous motto of “tackling illicit trade”, BAT was using the services of a local private security firm called Forensic Services Security (FSS) to promote its interests in the region (i.e. mostly spy on their local competitors). The firm is run by former apartheid era spook named Stephen Botha, and according to recent leaks and testimonies from its ex-employees – FSS’ work for BAT is could be described as somewhere between Godfather and James Bond.
Since the beginning of August, a Twitter account named “SATobacco Espionage” started publishing masses of FSS’ leaked materials related to their work for BAT. This was made in parallel with a signed affidavit made by FSS’ former-employee and recent whistleblower, Francois van Der Westhuizen (most likely to ensure his protection). Just to highlight some of the more “juicy” parts:
• Bribery of law enforcement officials including SA’s revenue services and police.
• Using local police’s CCTV capabilities to spy on BAT’s local competitors.
• Arranging regular inspections in the competitors’ premises by local authorities to obtain their confidential information.
• Placing tracking devices on the competitors’ trucks.

For a further read, you should check the Daily Maverick’s piece interestingly, Twitter shut down the   handle that leaked the material. The account has since been re-opend at the as SATobacco Espionage


How many more scandals and leaks are needed to understand a very simple truth?
Any connection between law enforcement and regulatory agencies and Big Tobacco lead to only one thing, the misuse of government’s regulations and power to promote the business interests of the tobacco oligopoly.
Big Tobacco will tackle illicit tobacco trade!
Actually, they will tackle any tobacco trade as long as it is competing with them.
Big Tobacco will work closely regulatory authorities!
They will even have an entire CCTV room at the local police department working for them.
Big Tobacco will track & trace!
If it means putting tracking devices on their competitors’ trucks and tracing whistleblowers.


Jokes aside, these examples in Africa are a great opportunity to see this cycle of lies in its true, corrupted and ugly form:


It’s not that they don’t do it in Europe – it is just masked and re-branded in the subtle form of “Codentify” now transferred to Inexto from within the tobacco industry itself. The next whistleblower is going to be from the EU authorities that even considered working with, or more accurately, for, these companies.