Smoke over Mugabe role in BAT saga

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s involvement in the tobacco espionage saga has raised eyebrows after it emerged he is related to one of the alleged victims.

British American Tobacco (BAT) is accused of fronting the espionage and has come under fire from Mugabe.

But Savanna Tobacco (Savanna) executive chairperson Adam Molai — who is married to one of Mugabe’s nieces — says his relationship to the Zanu PF leader is immaterial and has never abused his alleged political connections for commercial gain.

“I believe the President is (leader)… of all Zimbabweans, not excluding his relations,” he told the Daily News.

“We have similarly had calls from other national leaders from across the political divide also wanting to find out more about reports they have read in the papers, prior to the President’s comment,” Molai added.

“I believe it is immaterial for the victims of such acts, any self-respecting national leader would have commented on such a salient issue that had journalists encouraging the authorities to act. The entire cigarette industry has been severely affected by these espionage acts.”

Molai pointed out that Savanna’s position has been that multi nationals or any other monopolies “cannot be allowed to attempt to perpetuate their hegemony through bullying tactics and extra-legal processes”.

“Given such strong publicity on such an issue, would you have expected any leader attending a function where either BAT or any of the victims are involved, to ignore this?” he queried.

The prominent tobacco merchant said as a business they had lost over R18 million in hijackings, theft and armed robberies perpetrated against them.

“Given that Forensic Security Services (FSC) who are confirmed in South African courts as acting for BAT, are the same agents who have been confirmed through their former service provider to have been responsible for placing spies in our factories and following all our goods from the time they leave the factory.

“If they are not the perpetrators, they (FSC) must say who, given that they are omnipresent with our goods wherever they move,” Molai said.

Mugabe last week threatened unspecified action against BAT Zimbabwe, stating that government has “irrefutable evidence” on the company’s alleged tricks to sabotage local tobacco manufacturers, including Savanna, Kingdom, Breco (Fodya), Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea.

“It’s a huge case and it might affect you very soon,” Mugabe said.

On the other hand, BAT Zimbabwe has rubbished the claims and vehemently denied involvement in any industrial espionage to fend off stiff competition from indigenous tobacco manufacturers.

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed cigarette manufacturer said it does not export any cigarettes and as such its products are not exposed to the risk of alleged hijackings of cigarette trucks while in transit to neighbouring countries.

“BAT Zimbabwe, in response to recent allegations in the media, strongly denies any involvement in industrial espionage and/or any illegal activity that may be linked to other local tobacco manufacturers,” it said in a statement this week.

“Whilst BAT Zimbabwe is a subsidiary of a global multinational corporation, its cigarette operations and management control are confined to the manufacture, marketing and distribution of cigarettes for domestic consumption within the borders of Zimbabwe,” it added, adding that their operation only exports semi-processed tobacco leaf.

The European-backed company supports open and fair competition and in this, reserves the right to base its competitive strategies on legitimate market research and firmly denies resorting to illegal tactics.

“… in addition to our own internal governance on responsible market place practices, we are confident that our business activities are ethical, transparent and legitimate,” the conglomerate said.

Lovemore Manatsa, BAT’s local managing director, said the approval of its indigenisation plan not only shows the company’s commitment, but also compliance with the county’s laws.

Last week, BAT committed a 26 percent stake to Zimbabwean locals in compliance with indigenisation laws.

The company gave a 10 percent shareholding to a newly- established employee share ownership scheme and another 10, 74 percent to a Tobacco Empowerment Trust for the benefit of development and support of indigenous tobacco growers.

This translates to four million shares worth a combined $20 million. The remaining 5, 26 percent stake will be retained by existing indigenous shareholders.

BAT also donated six tractors to be allocated to six of the country’s major tobacco producing provinces and 50 laptops towards Mugabe’s presidential computerisation programme. - Kudzai Chawafambira

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