In mid-January 2013, emails reveal that a BAT employee named Johann van Rensburg sent urgent questions to FSS about Zimbabwe, including “investigating the pros and cons of donation to the party and joint business venture as discussed”.
Charges were officially withdrawn against the arrested directors on 13 March 2013. FSS’s operations for BAT in Zimbabwe resumed that same month.
The agent who had brokered the meeting claims it would be “fantasy land” to suggest FSS was able to continue its operations in Zimbabwe without paying a bribe to Mugabe.
“I had to make it clear that they’re going to expect a nice thick envelope of notes.”
He told the Bureau and Panorama: “Robert Mugabe killed 30 000 Zimbabweans in a genocide. Absolutely beaten, destroyed, the soul of a nation ripped from itself. How on earth would you even consider doing business there and why would you not rather, ethically, withdraw and make a statement to that?”
The Bureau has not obtained any evidence that the proposed payment in return for the releases from prison was ever actually made.
Mugabe went on to win a crucial majority in the elections in July 2013 and ruled for another four years.
Dumisani Muleya, editor of Zimbabwean investigative outlet News Hawks, said: “The context of this donation is the problem because BAT was seeking some favours from the government. I would call it bribery, corruption and hush money.”
He said that any donation of that kind would have been a “material issue because it would have helped ZANU-PF to change the capacity of its electoral machinery. It would have also influenced the outcome of the election.”
BAT did not deny the proposed payment to Mugabe when asked.
The company said: “Our efforts in combating illicit trade have been aimed at helping law enforcement agencies in the fight against the criminal trade in tobacco products. In 2016 BAT made public that it was investigating allegations of misconduct and was liaising with the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO). BAT fully cooperated with the SFO’s subsequent investigation, which included allegations relating to South Africa.”
The SFO concluded its official three-year investigation into BAT’s activities in Africa in January 2021, stating there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution. The investigation cost the UK taxpayer more than £2.3m.-BIJ