UK ends 3-year probe into BAT bribery scandal


British American Tobacco plant in Nairobi's Industrial Area. FILE PHOTO | NMG

UK authorities have ended a three-year-long probe into claims that British cigarette maker BAT #ticker:BAT ran a systematic bribery syndicate in Nairobi aimed at stifling anti-smoking laws and collecting business intelligence on rivals citing lack of sufficient evidence.

On Friday, UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said the evidence gathered “did not meet the evidential test for prosecution as defined in the Code for Crown Prosecutors”.

The SFO said it would "continue to help law enforcement agencies in other parts of the world, including Kenya, with their investigations," the Financial Times reported.

The investigation would have thrust into the limelight top Kenyan officials named in the scandal, including former Justice minister Martha Karua and ex-Trade minister Moses Wetang’ula.

Both Ms Karua and Mr Wetang'ula had vehemently maintained that the allegations were baseless. The Business Daily had not reached the duo for reaction by the time of publishing this story.

On its part, BAT welcomed the end of the probe.

“(BAT) is pleased that the SFO has closed its investigation and that the SFO is taking no further action in respect of this matter. BAT remains committed to the highest standards in the conduct of its business,” the firm was quoted saying in Financial Times.

Bribery claims

UK authorities began investigating the cigarette company in 2017 after claims it bribed tax officials and legislators in Kenya to undermine anti-smoking laws as well as insiders in a rival company in order to undermine competition.

One of its employees told the BBC’s Panorama programme in 2015 that he had allegedly made such corrupt payments.

The SFO has a track record of netting mega graft in Kenya, including the IEBC Chickengate scandal where election officials took bribes, code-named chicken, to inflate ballot paper tenders.

Publishers Oxford and Macmillan were also punished for bribing public officers to win contracts to supply school books.