Tobacco Industry – When Thieves fall out?

Tobacco-Wars-350x207The Business Times article “BAT hauled to court over spy claims” published Sunday, 31 August reveals, if nothing else, a web of spying and skulduggery within the tobacco industry. Guaranteed we haven’t heard the last of this saga yet……read on:

British American Tobacco (BAT) could have its dirty linen aired in court following a sensational high court application launched by local “value brand” producer Carnilinx for alleged “corporate espionage”.

In the application, Carnilinx director Kyle Phillips claimed BAT paid Pretoria attorney Belinda Walter for commercially sensitive information she obtained while “infiltrating ” the company and the FairTrade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) in 2012 and 2013. If this goes to trial, these spy claims could be extremely damaging for BAT, which is based in London and is the largest company listed on the JSE Securities Exchange, worth R1.26-trillion.

“BAT has used unlawful means to interfere in the business of the applicant. It has paid [Walter] monies to spy [on Carnilinx],” Mr Phillips claimed.

Ms Walter acted as the attorney to Carnilinx and as chairwoman of Fita, an industry body ostensibly established to represent South Africa’s smaller tobacco manufacturers.

Carnilinx is headed by Adriano Mazzotti, who donated cash to the Economic Freedom Fighters, which helped it to contest the May election.

Mr Mazzotti’s company is asking the court to interdict Ms Walter from providing any further information to BAT and to stop BAT unlawfully “interfering with its trade”.

Carnilinx’s application is based on Ms Walter’s “confession” during a meeting in February, in which she detailed her role as an informant for the government’s State Security Agency, which allegedly introduced her to Forensic Security Services (FSS).

This private security firm works for the Tobacco Institute of SA (Tisa), which represents the larger tobacco producers, notably BAT.

This journalist witnessed Ms Walter’s admissions at that meeting. In its legal papers, Carnilinx said FSS then “introduced Walter to BAT, to whom she would give information on the smaller manufacturers”.

Mr Phillips goes further, saying Ms Walter proposed creating Fita in the first place so “she could infiltrate all the smaller tobacco manufacturers”.

“The first Fita meeting was held late in 2012, at Walter’s offices, which Walter admits with her compliance and knowledge was bugged by FSS.

For the information she fed to BAT, Walter was paid,” he said. In Ms Walter’s opposing affidavit, filed on Friday, she claimed she was under “extreme emotional distress” during that meeting with Carnilinx in February, because of physical threats against her and her son.

She denied “any commercial or attorney-client relationship with BAT South Africa”, and said she was “nothing but a thorn in their side”.

When asked by the Sunday Times this week, Ms Walter did not deny that she fed information to BAT’s London office, or that she had knowingly allowed the first Fita meeting to be recorded by FSS. But she said the leaking of information was common practice among Fita members.

Instead, in her court papers, she mounted a scathing attack on her former client, Carnilinx.

“Carnilinx also attempts to paint a picture that they are ‘victims’, choir boys in the church choir. This is simply not the case,” she claimed.

Ms Walter said she could say “with confidence” that almost all Fita members provided information on each other to law-enforcement agencies about widespread “dealings in illicit products and criminal activities”.

She claimed Carnilinx employed “its own investigators to spy on competitors, rat out its competitors to law-enforcement agencies and provide substantial information on illicit trade of its competitors to the South African Revenue Service” (SARS), and that “at least one Carnilinx director is a paid SARS informant”.

Ms Walter resigned as attorney to Carnilinx, and soon after as chairwoman of Fita last November after becoming romantically involved with the head of SARS’s enforcement division, Johann van Loggerenberg.

That relationship ended “acrimoniously “, prompting Ms Walter to lay complaints with SARS against Van Loggerenberg, in which she claims he divulged confidential taxpayer information relating to his investigations into Carnilinx, among others.

Now Carnilinx is claiming Ms Walter “fed information on Carnilinx to SARS “. In response, Ms Walter alleged that Carnilinx was offered “tax leniency” in exchange for filing the application against her — an allegation Mr Mazzotti has denied.

Ms Walter has asked the court to order that if this case goes ahead, SARS and Mr Van Loggerenberg should be “forced to put pen to paper and make affidavits in response to my allegations of the corrupt conduct and collusion in this malicious and vexatious application”. Source: The Sunday Times (Business Times)

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Mugabe family linked to illicit SA cigarette trade

Pacific Blue_SnapseedRelatives of President Robert Mugabe are being linked to illegal tobacco smuggling networks suspected of bringing more than $48 million in contraband through South Africa’s borders, reports NewZimbabwe.com.

Harare-based Savanna Tobacco is owned by a prominent Zimbabwean businessman, Adam Molai, who is married to Sandra Mugabe, one of Mugabe’s nieces. Molai has previously worked with Sandra as co-director of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Growing Company. Savanna has allegedly moved tons of illegal tobacco into South Africa.

The company’s main brand, Pacific cigarettes, has been found in concealed consignments by police in South Africa and abroad, according to two private investigators who track tobacco busts and work for the industry to counter the trade in illicit tobacco. The products have been linked to a huge tobacco smuggling operation whose base in South Africa was shut down in 2010 by the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which is engaged in a crackdown on the country’s illegal tobacco markets.

Images taken at the scene of two busts in South Africa and one in Zimbabwe show the extent of the smuggling operation. SARS has refused to confirm or deny whether it is investigating Savanna, citing the confidentiality requirements of the Tax Administration Act.

The frequency of the busts, the methods used and the quantities of illegal Pacific cigarettes found have led sources close to the investigations to claim that Savanna has been centrally involved for at least four years. It also increases suspicions that Zimbabwe is using smuggling to keep its economy afloat. Mugabe has openly supported Savanna. A year ago, he accused rival British American Tobacco (BAT) of spying on Savanna and hijacking its trucks. “If this is what you are doing in order to kill competition and you do it in a bad way, somebody will answer for it,” Mugabe warned.

Boxes of cigarettes that can be made for as little as R1.50 are easy to slip into the local market to avoid the R13 tax a box. Whereas popular brands of cigarettes can retail at R35 a pack, illegal cigarettes sell for between R4 and R12 a pack. With margins approaching 1000%, the illicit trade has become one of the largest elements in organised crime in South Africa.

According to research commissioned by the Tobacco Institute of South Africa, which is predominantly funded by BAT, 9.5billion illegal cigarettes with a street value of about R4-billion were smoked locally last year.

Savanna has captured almost 10% of this market, according to the institute, with about 700 million of its illegal cigarettes smoked last year. Pacific’s illegal cigarettes are sold mostly on the streets of Cape Town.

In one of the biggest busts in October, 1.6million Pacific cigarettes were found hidden on a train in Plumtree. Pacific cigarettes have also been seized at the Beitbridge border post near Musina and in Boksburg, on the East Rand, during busts in November. Trucks were found carrying Pacific cigarettes in concealed compartments.

This month, a consignment of Pacific cigarettes was found hidden behind electronic goods on a truck in the Western Cape. Similar busts have been made in Mozambique and at a border post between Zambia and Namibia, according to private investigators.

Evidence from the Plumtree train bust showed that the smuggling route had its origin as Savanna’s factory in Zimbabwe and South Africa’s black market as its destination. In the Plumtree bust on October 12, Zimbabwean police confiscated 40 tons of illicit Pacific cigarettes that had come from Bulawayo. The train was said to be carrying gum poles.

Records reveal that between September 2012 and August 2013 at least 23 shipments with 44 wagons of “gum poles” had followed the same route. A number of these consignments appear to have arrived at the South African business PFC Integration. According to an investigator who has studied the operation, PFC is “not into the gum pole business at all”.

 

10 Downing Street accused of ‘caving in’ to cigarette lobby as plain packs put on hold

English: The Globe House, headquarters of Brit...

The Globe House, headquarters of British American Tobacco in London, as seen from River Thames (Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Anti-smoking campaigners have accused the UK government of caving in to pressure from the tobacco lobby and running scared of Ukip after plans to enforce the sale of cigarettes in plain packs failed to make it into the Queen’s speech. Minutes released by the Department of Health show that one of the industry’s leading players had told government officials that, if the move went through, it would source its packaging from abroad, resulting in “significant job losses.”

Cancer charities and health experts were expecting a bill to be introduced last week that would ban branded cigarette packaging, following a ban introduced in Australia last December. The plain packaging idea comes from Australia, the country where it was first tried out. Cigarettes there have to be in a drab olive-coloured packaging, and the brand name is in a uniform typeface. The packets are also adorned with graphic images of the effects of lung cancer.

At least one health minister had been briefing that the bill would be in the Queen’s speech. But the bill was apparently put on hold at the last minute with the government saying it would be a distraction from its main legislative priorities.

It has emerged that senior Department of Health officials held four key meetings with the industry’s leading players in January and February, when at least one of the tobacco giants spelled out to the government that its plan would result in thousands of jobs going abroad.

Department of Health minutes released last week reveal that Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International were each invited to make representations to the government, in which they attacked the plan and its impact on the UK economy.

Only the minutes of the meeting with Imperial have been released. They record that Imperial warned if plain packs were introduced it would source packaging from the Far East resulting “in significant job losses in the UK.” (Hmm….the Brits thought little of this when imposing new packaging and labelling for UK bulk-liquor imports from abroad, which will have similar consequential effects (job losses) on foreign economies. Rather hypocritical I would think!)

A tobacco giant, Imperial, also outlined how its packaging research and development department supported small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK and argued that standard packs would “result in some of these being put out of business”.

It added that the plan would boost the illicit trade in cigarettes, which already costs the Treasury £3bn in unpaid duty and VAT a year. And it noted that 70,000 UK jobs rely on the tobacco supply chain, implying some of these would be threatened if the illicit market continued to grow. When asked to hand over its assessment of the impact of the plan, Imperial refused, citing commercial sensitivity.

The decision to delay the introduction of plain packs is a major success for the tobacco lobby, which has run a ferocious campaign against the move. Cigarette makers fear that the loss of their branding will deprive them of their most powerful marketing weapon. The industry has backed a series of front campaign groups to make it appear that there is widespread opposition to the plan, a practice known in lobbying jargon as “astroturfing”. Many of the ideas were imported from Australia, where the tobacco giants fought a bitter but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to resist plain packs. Much of the Australian campaign was masterminded by the lobbying firm Crosby Textor, whose co-founder Lynton Crosby is spearheading the Tories’ 2015 election bid.

Crosby was federal director of the Liberal party in Australia when it accepted tobacco money. Crosby Textor in Australia was paid a retainer from BAT during the campaign against plain packs. Some anti-smoking campaigners are now questioning whether the decision to drop the plain packs bill was as a result of shifting allegiances at Westminster.

“It looks as if the noxious mix of right-wing Australian populism, as represented by Crosby and his lobbying firm, and English saloon bar reactionaries, as embodied by [Nigel] Farage and Ukip, may succeed in preventing this government from proceeding with standardised cigarette packs, despite their popularity with the public,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the health charity Action on Smoking and Health. A Department of Health spokeswoman denied that tobacco lobbying had been a factor in the decision to pull the bill. “These minutes simply reflect what the tobacco company said at the meeting, not the government’s view,” she said. “The government has an open mind on this issue, and any decisions to take further action will be taken only after full consideration of the evidence and the consultation responses.” Source: The Guardian, UK

Tobacco in South Africa

smoke-cigaretteCigarette volume sales increase in 2011 – Retail volume sales grew by 1% in 2011, following declines throughout the review period. Retail value sales grew significantly due to a general price increase to cater for taxation increases, as well as rising production costs for manufacturers.

Porous borders continue to influence the growth of illicit cigarette sales – Volume sales of illicit cigarettes continued to grow during 2011, despite efforts by the police and tobacco industry stakeholders to combat illicit trade. Porous borders have been identified as the key factor behind the rise in the amount of illegal cigarettes being smuggled into the country. The Beitbridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe was identified as the main point of entry for illicit cigarettes from Zimbabwe.

High import duties restrict the growth of the cigars category – The performance of the cigars category remains suppressed due to high import duties on all cigars. The unit price on most cigars increased significantly in 2011 to accommodate import duty increases. Local distributors were reluctant to import new cigar brands due to a low turnover for existing brands. Consumption of cigars declined in 2011 due to higher unit prices for leading brands, with only festive seasons seeing some respite.

Consumers continue to favour buying tobacco products from supermarkets – The supermarkets channel remains the major point of access for most tobacco products in South Africa. Supermarkets tend to sell tobacco products at relatively low profit margins when contrasted with other channels, such as tobacco specialists. With the rising cost of living, smokers still prefer to use supermarkets to buy tobacco products due to the lower prices.

Retail volume sales expected to decline over the forecast period – Slower but relatively stable growth is expected for retail plus illicit volume sales over the forecast period, however retail sales alone are expected to decline. Category performance is expected to be restricted by legislative restrictions, such as a ban on the advertising of tobacco products in any way other than at points of sale. The Government of South Africa is also considering a total ban on the display of tobacco products at points of sale. Thus, retail volumes are expected to decline, while illicit sales will continue to rise during the forecast period.

For a meagre sum of US$1,900 why not purchase the full report Discover the latest market trends and uncover sources of future market growth for the Tobacco industry in South Africa with research from Euromonitor‘s team of in-country analysts. Find hidden opportunities in the most current research data available, understand competitive threats with detailed market analysis, and plan your corporate strategy with expert qualitative analysis and growth projections. If you’re in the Tobacco industry in South Africa, this research will save time and money, empowering informed, profitable decisions – so the blah says.

Source: Euromonitor.com

Hijackers bleed cigarette exporters

While the world’s health authorities rally for legislation outlawing or at least curbing tobacco abuse, it seems there is a world of intrigue deep in the heart of the tobacco trade. 

Zimbabwe is investigating possible industrial espionage amid reports that South African tobacco firms are hiring hijackers to pounce on export cigarette consignments in transit to that country. In the past year or so, indigenous producers exporting to South Africa lost an estimated R100 million worth of cigarettes to armed robbery syndicates. Among the affected companies are Kingdom, Savanna Tobacco, Breco (Fodya), Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea.

Savanna Tobacco has confirmed losing cigarettes worth over R18 million through hijackings and robberies while their warehouse in SA has been broken into several times. Only British American Tobacco Company has been spared. At least eight Zimbabweans were arrested at Savanna Tobacco in Harare on suspected espionage. Cosygene Dekeya, a former army military intelligence operative and Edmore Muronzerei appeared in court last week.

Investigations by The Herald showed that the Tobacco Institute of South Africa contracted a security firm, Forensic Security Service, to monitor Zimbabwean cigarette manufacturers, whose brands are giving their South African counterparts stiff competition. Stephen Botha, a former apartheid military supremo owns Forensic Security Services, the company that allegedly recruited spies within the workforce of Zimbabwean cigarette manufacturers. The spies allegedly supply consignment export details, enabling the cartel to track, intercept and hijack. FSS is said to have engaged a local business mogul (name supplied) who owns one of the largest courier service companies to co-ordinate the spies and their payments. The mogul’s trucks have also been hijacked in what might turn out to be inside jobs. Local (Zimbabwean) companies now suspect BAT of being behind the formation of TISA, which has since been regionalised.

Savanna Tobacco executive chairman Mr Adam Molai said it was shocking that South Africans were infiltrating local security organisations to commit economic crimes and bleed the economy. “It is deplorable, you cannot have foreign agencies working for our competitors to distabilise our operations in Zimbabwe. We hope our authorities will ensure that issues of this nature are dealt with accordingly,” said Mr Molai.

Trednet administrative manager Mr Graham Acutt said his company had reduced production by 70 percent. “We are aware of the under cover operations for quite some time now. This is tantamount to industrial espionage and it is highly illegal and frowned upon the world over. Imagine people spying on you and following your consignment. It becomes sensitive and clients will stop buying your product,” he said.

Mr Acutt said he was aware that police were investigating and he was willing to assist as much as he could. “We need more help from the authorities in Zimbabwe to investigate those who are actually behind this. We will assist where we can. This espionage has compromised our ability to export and obviously to earn foreign currency for the country,” he said.

Breco, which is now trading as Fodya said their market intelligence has over time indicated that there were clandestine activities being undertaken by some organisations to disrupt their business. “We understand most companies in this industry experienced this form of activity in one form or another,” said Breco in an e-mail to The Herald. “What is most alarming is that some of the organisations involved in these activities are externally-based and being assisted by local Zimbabweans. If the activities of these institutions or organisations are the real basis for our reduced capacity, then it is illegal,” it said. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Tobacco Wars Heating Up

Australian courts this week threw out the bid by tobacco conglomerates to block government from introducing plain packaging for cigarettes. Tobacco product distributors operating in Namibia have been banking on a victory in the Australian courts to strengthen their arguments against similar plans by the Namibian government. Namibia Gazetted the Tobacco Products Control Act of 2010 that introduced plain packaging and ban the use of words such ‘mild’ or ‘light’ on cigarette boxes or any other tobacco products sold in Namibia.

The world’s biggest and the Namibian market leader in tobacco products, British American Tobacco (BAT) has been fighting the Act with serious threats to take the government to court if it dared to implement the Act. BAT has been citing the Australian court case as an example of how far it is prepared to go to fight the Namibian government over what it says is tantamount to expropriation of its trademarks properties. BAT also says plain packaging takes away its trade rights to freely communicate to consumers the nature of their lawful products on offer.

The Australian government’s victory now exposes BAT, along with Japan’s Tobacco International (JTI) and Imperial Tobacco to similar laws across the world. Britain, Canada, New Zealand, China, France, India, South Africa, Norway and Uruguay are already considering implementing the plain packaging measures. Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) member states intend to adopt the generic Tobacco Products Control Act of South Africa that is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s pressure on the use of tobacco products, through the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. BAT has been saying the proposed branding would exacerbate the illegal tobacco trade in Namibia where about 225 000 cigarettes are illegally sold every day.

BAT has a market share of about 85 percent of the Namibian tobacco market, selling just over 330 million cigarettes every year in the country. Namibians are said to smoke 75 000 packs of 20 cigarettes each per day or an equivalent of 1.5 million cigarettes each day. The court ruling in Australia makes Australia the first country in the world where cigarettes are sold in drab, olive coloured packets with graphic health warnings and no logos.

The Tobacco Products Control Act of 2010 also mandates the establishment of a fund from levies on sales of tobacco and other sources.The fund would partly use the money to pay for treatment of tobacco-related illnesses. The new proposed packaging features graphic pictures depicting the ill health associated with smoking. These range from stained teeth, throat cancer to damaged lungs and breast cancer with appropriate warnings underneath the picture. If the new legislation is implemented fully there would be a total blackout on advertising, promotion and any public relations activities around tobacco products or companies whose names are directly associated with tobacco products. Source: New Era, Namibia.