A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, BBC Panorama and the University of Bath reveals British American Tobacco (BAT) was linked to a conspiracy to pay a bribe of between $300 000 and $500 000 to the notorious dictator to get certain people released from jail.
Leaked documents suggest there were discussions about paying a bribe to Mugabe’s political party Zanu-PF.
At the time BAT was paying FSS, a South African private security contractor, to conduct a secret operation to hamper rival tobacco businesses in Zimbabwe. FSS had fallen foul of Mugabe’s regime after agents were accused of spying on its behalf on Savanna Tobacco, which was run by Adam Molai, the husband of Mugabe’s niece.
It was forced to rely on a local security company to do its dirty work. But in late 2012 three directors of that company were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit robbery. The documents show that a plan was hatched with BAT’s knowledge to get the directors off the hook and protect BAT’s name.
The bribe was proposed by Brigadier General Asher Walter Tapfumaneyi, currently the deputy director general of Zimbabwe’s feared Central Intelligence Organisation spy network. At the time he was director at the Ministry of State of Presidential Affairs.
The man who brokered the deal has told the Bureau and BBC’s Panorama he had already bribed Zimbabwean officials to get an initial meeting with the brigadier.
“I had to make it clear that they’re going to expect a nice thick envelope of notes,” he said. “I would be given a lump sum of money as an operational budget and out of that I would always give a handshake and a nice wodge of cash to the principles just to warm them to the idea.”
A leaked document claims that during that meeting, between the FSS boss Stephen Botha and Tapfumaneyi, the brigadier said that “with the upcoming elections” a donation to Mugabe’s political party “would pave the way for negotiations to continue”. This would “open the doors to continue this project in the near future”.
Tapfumaneyi told the Bureau: “I have absolutely no knowledge or association with the events, circumstances, persona which you claim to have uncovered, except ZANU-PF. The rest of your story, I am hearing from you for the first time”.
Three sources have confirmed that BAT was aware of the deal on the table, and documents show that company money paid for the initial payment to secure the meeting. A paper trail shows a BAT employee signed off on payments for an FSS operation codenamed “SOS Zim”.
The arrested agents were released in early January 2013 immediately after Tapfumaneyi proposed their release as a “goodwill gesture” prior to any bribe being paid.
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