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LONDON – The Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation into British American Tobacco in relation to corruption and bribery allegations.
The company is alleged to have bribed officials in East Africa to soften anti-smoking legislation, accusations brought to light in 2015 by whistleblower Paul Hopkins.
Hopkins, who had worked for BAT in Kenya for 13 years, leaked hundreds of documents – including internal emails and secret recordings he had made – which showed BAT officials engaged in bribery with local politicians and civil servants.
The leaked material formed the basis of BBC Panorama’s “The Secrets of Big Tobacco.”
BAT said last week it had hired Linklaters to look into the charges. “As previously announced, we are investigating, through external legal advisers, allegations of misconduct. We have been co-operating with the Serious Fraud Office and British American Tobacco has been informed that the SFO has now opened a formal investigation. BAT intends to co-operate with that investigation,” the company said on Tuesday in a statement.
“The SFO confirms it is investigating suspicions of corruption in the conduct of businesses by BAT Plc, its subsidiaries and associated persons,” the SFO said in a statement.
BAT reported a 15.7% increase in revenue in its half year results last week. The rise was helped by the drop in sterling, since around 90% of the company’s sales occur outside the UK. The report also noted the “ongoing investigation into misconduct allegations,” and said the company was liaising with the SFO and other relevant authorities.