Tobacco industry remains under cloud. . . as Rudland speaks on attempted SA assassination
THE tobacco industry cannot quite shake off its shady image. Recently, Gold Leaf Tobacco Corporation (GLTC) chief executive Simon Rudland survived an assassination attempt at the offices of the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA), which represents smaller cigarette producers.
The Zimbabwean-born tycoon suspects the “hit was put out by one of his smaller industry competitors, though the association says there was no evidence of this”.
With private investigators on the case, Rudland is not only sticking to his claim — that a competitor was trying to rub him out — but he is moving in a convoy now when in South Africa (SA). Suspects have also been identified, but no charges have been preferred yet.
All this says something about the state of the cigarette business in the country, which was described by Johann van Loggerenberg in his “tobacco wars” book as dirty.
Last week, FITA used the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to request British American Tobacco SA (BATSA) to publicise the findings of an investigation into a raft of alleged espionage and sabotage activities conducted by Forensic Security Services (FSS) on its behalf.
And the whole “rogue unit” narrative, and group operating within the South African Revenue Services (SARS) emanates from these shady sources, van Loggerenberg says. In the meantime, the ex-tax investigator was accused of being part of this outfit and story, which has since been proven to be false.
It had all the elements of a counter-intelligence operation, but the real purpose was to “kill off a devastatingly successful operation that had tightened the noose on criminals and big-time tax dodgers”, Van Loggerenberg estimates the spiking of this unit has probably cost SARS three billion rand.
FSS recruited former cops and spooks to stop illicit cigrattes trade, but one of its key tasks was to spy on BATSA’s competitors. A key piece of evidence was an affidavit by former employee Daniel van der Westhuizen and in which he says he was told all his actions — including interception of communications, and breaches of the right to privacy — were within the law.
In hindsight, the purpose of his employment and investigative skills was for BATSA’s benefit through the disruption “of competitors’ businesses.”
All this is detailed in Van Loggerenberg’s Tobacco Wars and yet to be refuted by BATSA — probably because the documentary evidence, and back-up is overwhelming.
The alleged reach of FSS was astonishing, as it included SARS officials and several other law enforcement agencies, and its operatives would even place tracking devices on competitor trucks to monitor their movementts, type of stock and who was receiving the goods.
Additionally, they allegedly placed hidden cameras at competitors’ work places, homes, followed their vehicles around, engaged in industrial espionage by way of stealing sensitibe information such as production schedules, invoices and for onward transmission to their handlers.
Tobacco companies were also making donations to political parties. “…Carnilinx has made donations to the Economic Freedom Front or that Yusuf Kajee of Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturers was an outspoken supporter of Jacob Zuma… But we do not really know to whom the big boys have donated money or how much and for what reasons,” the explosive book says.
And last week’s FITA statement said it has been three years since BATSA had instructed three sets of attorneys Norton Rose Fulbright, Linklaters and Slaughter & May to investigate on its behalf the allegations of illegal surveillance, phone snoopings and wire tapping, corruption, money-laundering, tax evasion, unfair trade practices, and undue influence over law enforcement agencies.”
“…BATSA prides itself as a law abiding entity and we, therefore, implore them to do the right thing and… by bringing to light the steps taken in ensuring that those who acted unlawfully, and tarnished the(ir) name… are brought to book,” it said.
Johnny Moloto, the company’s head of external affairs, said the report was “legally privileged and prepared for British American Tobacco’s (consumption only). The contents of the report may be relevant to ongoing investigations and litigation. BAT has made disclosures to the appropriate South African and other law enforcement authorities.”
And the man fired off some accusations of his own against FITA, whose members have come under increasing scrutiny by SARS and saying the allegations were “an attempt to deflect attention by dredging up allegations that have been in the public domain for more than five years”.
The reason SARS has a special interest in the tobacco industry is its rich history of smuggling, experts say.
And Van Loggerenberg says he has little hope BATSA will release evidence implicating itself or any of its service providers and agents.
“Nor do I expect BAT to publicly acknowledge their relationships with… secret agents, including Michael Peega and Belinda Walter or any other… intelligence operatives such as those in the unholy… tobacco task team as… Hennie Niemann, Chris Burger and others,” he said.
“Doing so would demonstrate how these rogue agents deliberately sought to discredit the SARS… purely to distract from and hide away their own sins. The result was that their actions gave birth to the now wholly discredited “rogue unit narrative”, which was (met) with great fervour by… those wishing to capture SARS,” Van Loggerenberg said, adding by managing disclosures “BATSA wanted to wash its hands of past wrongdoing”.
“The fact that the Public Investment Corporation holds about R30 billion in shares in BATSA doesn’t seem to matter either,” the ex-tax sleuth said.
“The fact that FITA members have been found wanting on compliance issues… is a complete side show and distraction. The public is well aware of their sins and consequences (thereof). FITA members collectively hold significantly lower market share (and) none are listed multinationals either,” Van Loggerenberg said, noting further that “BATSA must focus on its sins before pointing fingers at others.” — moneyweb