SFO Drops Investigation into British American Tobacco

It’s a bad start to the year for the Serious Fraud Office as, once again, it drops another of its long-running investigations.

M4RNDA London, UK. 17th February, 2018. A sign outside the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in Westminster.

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LONDON (Within The Law) - On Monday the SFO announced it would not bring charges against one of the largest tobacco companies in the world. Despite a four-year investigation and a host of information in the media, the SFO said the case did not meet the evidential case for the prosecution. 

British American Tobacco has faced accusations that it had bribed officials in the Comoros and Rwanda since 2005. Leaked documents provided to the BBC showed how it had allegedly used illicit payments to help obstruct measures to protect communities from the impact of the tobacco industry. 

In 2005 the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco control introduced measures requiring signatories to implement a comprehensive set of control measures and a moratorium on undue influence from the industry. 

It was one of the UN’s most ratified treaties with more than 183 states around the world signing up. The US which has one of the largest tobacco industries in the world remained a notable exception. 

However, the industry has often been accused of trying to get around the measures. A 2017 investigation by the Guardian showed that BAT representatives had been threatening governments in Africa demanding they dilute protections. 

After the report, the SFO launched an investigation into the allegations against the manufacturer. Now, having dropped its investigation, the agency says it will ‘continue to offer assistance to the ongoing investigations of other law enforcement partners’.

The news represents another in a series of aborted investigations and wasted public funds. It comes amid growing concern about the organisations record. 

Since Lisa Osofsky took charge, the regulator has been dropping a hefty proportion of its cases. They include long-running bribery cases against Rolls Royce and GlaxoSmithKline. It has also recently terminated investigations into De la Rue and ABB.

Other major cases such as the Tesco Bank fraud trial have resulted in embarrassing failure. 

This latest decision comes despite BAT’s behaviour being investigated by other law enforcement agencies and media outlets. 

The Organised Crime and Corruption Project has launched a number of investigations into wrongdoing by the tobacco industry including an investigation into Phillip Morris International about the bribery of Italian officials and attempts by manufacturers to gain control of the EU’s framework for monitoring the black market trade in tobacco. 

A report issued by the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control found that the industry had scaled up its lobbying efforts during the pandemic.  

(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)

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