Press release 13th Sep 2021

Investigation needed into latest British American Tobacco bribery allegations

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Presumption should be against DPA offer if wrongdoing is found


September 13, 2021 - Allegations that British American Tobacco (BAT) used middlemen to pay bribes in two African countries should be investigated by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Transparency International UK said today. 

A BBC investigation published today alleges the tobacco giant, which is Britain’s eighth-largest company, was involved in facilitating bribes to former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe and officials in South Africa.

The company has admitted no wrongdoing and insists it is committed to the highest standards of corporate conduct and transparency. 

If the SFO finds evidence of bribery, they should start with a presumption against the company being eligible for a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA). These corporate plea deals are supposed to be contingent on businesses voluntarily reporting suspected wrongdoing to the SFO within a reasonable time of those suspicions coming to light.

Transparency International UK has previously expressed concerns that unless the requirement to self-report is adhered to, DPAs may incentivise companies to keep quiet about wrongdoing and only cooperate with investigators once it becomes clear the allegations can no longer be covered up. 


Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said:

“These latest allegations should now be investigated by the Serious Fraud Office. Given the company’s continued denials that any wrongdoing occurred, if sufficient evidence is found to prosecute, there should be a presumption against the offer of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. Offering these deals to companies that refused to acknowledge there was a problem undermines their use as a deterrent against economic crime and an incentive for companies to report wrongdoing to law enforcement agencies themselves.

“We understand that third parties are often essential for multinationals doing business overseas but they must not be used as a way to distance companies from wrongdoing on their behalf, as may have been the case here. Corruption in some of the world’s poorest countries, or those run by repressive regimes, inevitably has the biggest impact on the most vulnerable.”


Notes to editors:

In 2017, the Serious Fraud Office began an investigation into bribery allegations at British American Tobacco. The SFO announced it had concluded this probe in January 2021, citing a lack of evidence.