UK authorities have opened investigations into claims that British cigarette maker BAT ran a systematic bribery syndicate in Nairobi aimed at stifling anti-smoking laws and collecting business intelligence on rivals.
The investigation is expected to thrust into the limelight top Kenyan officials named in the scandal, including former Justice minister Martha Karua and ex-Trade minister Moses Wetang’ula, who is a key leader in the opposition Nasa coalition.
The Serious Fraud Office on Tuesday said it had begun piecing together information on how BAT allegedly bribed Kenyan tax officials, legislators, and insiders at rival company in order to undermine competition and stifle anti-smoking laws.
“The SFO confirms it is investigating suspicions of corruption in the conduct of business by BAT PLC, its subsidiaries and associated persons,” the British anti-graft agency told the Business Daily.
“The next public facing update would either be to bring charges or to close the investigation without charge.”
The SFO has a track record of netting mega graft in Kenya, including the IEBC Chickengate scandal, where election officials took bribes, code-named "chicken", to inflate ballot paper tenders.
Publishers Oxford and Macmillan were also punished for bribing public officers to win contracts to supply school books.
Other Kenyan officials named in the scandal, christened "Cigargate", are Mary M’Mukindia, a former director at the Kenya Revenue Authority, and Julie Adell-Owino, a former BAT Kenya lobbyist.
The bribery allegations involving BAT in Kenya and Uganda were first reported in an exposé by London-based broadcaster BBC in December 2015, and further details unearthed by the Independent newspaper.
Ms M’Mukindia was the conduit through which BAT PLC allegedly bribed Ms Karua, the former Justice minister, with £50,000 to block a rival firm from winning a lucrative tender at the KRA, the Independent reported.
But Ms Karua has disputed the sum of cash received and its purpose, saying she received a Sh2 million “donation” to her presidential campaign.
Read more here: BAT bribery scandal.