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September 19, 2017

Kenya asked to investigate BAT over claims it bribed Karua and Wetang’ula

A cigarette smoke puffs at a cigarette./JACK OWUOR
A cigarette smoke puffs at a cigarette./JACK OWUOR

Kenya has been asked to probe cigarette maker BAT, days after the UK formally began investigating the company for allegedly bribing Kenyan ministers to undermine anti-smoking laws and advance its commercial interests.

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office says it has opened a formal investigation into reports the company extended bribes to two Kenyan ministers in President Kibaki’s government.

The two – NASA co-principal Moses Wetang’ula and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua - have in the past said they are innocent. The bribery claims were revealed by whistleblowing former employee Paul Hopkins, who worked for BAT in Kenya for 13 years.

They were first aired through the BBC’s Panorama programme in 2015 and then widely reported across the world.

Local anti-smoking lobby Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance said the government must also probe the alleged malpractices locally.

“We spent more than 10 years trying to pass anti-smoking regulations in Kenya, with a lot of interference from cigarette companies,” said Ketca chairman Joel Gitali.

“We do not want a case of ChickenGate where wrongdoers are charged in the UK and their Kenyan counterparts go scot-free.” The BAT, through its UK lawyers, said it is carrying out an internal probe.

“As previously announced, we are investigating, through external legal advisers, allegations of misconduct,” the company said recently through Slaughters and May.

US-based lobby Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids further urged the country’s Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate the company and its subsidiaries for possible violations of the anti-bribery and accounting provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Tobacco-Free Kids requested the investigation in a letter to the two government agencies.

The bribery revelations came after former BAT employee Hopkins handed over a large number of documents to the UK investigators in December 2015.

Hopkins has sued the company for unfair dismissal related to whistleblowing.

“His previous advisors pursued the case in London because his employment contracts were made in the UK rather than Kenya,” Louis Charalambous, Hopkins’s solicitor, said in a statement.

“However the employment judge ruled that despite his employment having the appearance of a UK contract, he should have pursued his claim in Kenya.”

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