Press release FITA 05 March 2019

 

Press release – FITA – for immediate release

We wish to bring to the public’s attention a matter of great concern which has seen some of our law enforcement agencies of late returning to practices of a dark period in our past where they were captured by big tobacco in its efforts to influence the state under surreptitious methods such as through the notorious illicit tobacco task team.

Over the last few weeks one of our member factories was visited by law enforcement agents accompanied by private individuals under the guise of a joint operation. This is obviously of great concern given the history of the tobacco industry and we have written to the relevant law enforcement agencies to establish under what authority it would have been permissible for private individuals to act in conjunction with law enforcements agents to conduct site inspections, and requesting them to further conduct an investigation. It appears that state officials are once again being used as pawns to harass and target our members, putting their lives and those of their employees in danger by means of what appears to be a collaborative effort with private and unknown parties to inter alia source or gather confidential information.

We previously alluded to this practice in our January 2016 press statement, wherein we indicated that we had in our possession evidence of instances in the past which pointed to various practices by certain role-players in the tobacco industry that spoke to unfair treatment of some by the state, preferential treatment in other cases and various anti-competitive practices. We pointed out that whilst illicit manufacturing and smuggling may be a common malady in the industry that needed to be eradicated, there are a multitude of other ills that affect economic growth and losses to the fiscus that need to be addressed by the state. We have stated repeatedly that a more holistic approach is required of the state to address losses to the fiscus – of which illicit manufacturing and smuggling form but a part.

Quite clearly, the practice of aggressive tax-base erosion in our economy has drawn significant interest in the media recently. We believe the publication to shareholders of a multinational tobacco manufacturer of the largest ever single tax assessment issued by SARS is but the tip of the iceberg. However, this issue never seems to be prioritised by SARS and our media and we again implore them to increase their efforts into dealing with the tobacco industry by extending their scope to such practices. Quite clearly the amount of unpaid taxes due to the fiscus as a result of such practices by far exceeds small-fry smuggling operations. It would make no sense to exert all energy towards only smuggling and illicit manufacturing when such large amounts are moved offshore and ignored.

Rumblings of questionable practices by multinational companies and private security firms associated to them first came to the fore during the ructions at SARS in 2014. We had been acutely aware of these and other allegations for some time prior to this. In the result, we collectively and individually instructed our attorneys to look into these and lay criminal complaints on our behalf where necessary. This was widely reported on by the media in late 2016. Further, the so-called Tobacco Leaks exposed the unlawful methods resorted to by big tobacco via its agents and/or undue influence over law enforcement agencies to root out its competitors. As of date nothing has been done about this, despite the glaring evidence, by our law enforcement agencies.

Our aforementioned criminal complaints are now at an advanced stage and we have been advised by the SAPS that the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions is in the process of giving a directive in this regard.

We are further in the process of making available to the relevant authorities further evidence collected in respect of what we believe to amounts to:

  • Private investigators illegally entering private premises and planting surreptitious listening devices and bugging phones.
  • Private investigators operating an illegal covert network of spies throughout South Africa who in turn were paid to spy on us. By way of example we can now release a list of a database of such spies with their names withheld for legal reasons.
  • The illegal infiltration and manipulation of FITA, which included the bugging of our board room and board meetings.
  • The setting up of an illegal spy network in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
  • Private investigators illegally entering our premises and planting tracking devices on our vehicles. We can now reveal a photograph of one such device found on one of our trucks.
  • Corrupt practices in terms of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act which includes the illegal accessing of private and confidential information only privy to FITA members in exchange for a fee. These matters have already been registered with law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom and our attorneys have been in constant contact with them since.
  • Money-laundering practices, including the payment of persons spying on us by way of cash passports and debit cards in fictitious or false names. We can now reveal an example of such cards used.
  • Infiltration and manipulation of some of us by means of “agents of influence” with the sole intention to disrupt our business activities and pit us against each other. Some of these activities included duping us into manipulating the media to report on each other in a negative light. In some cases these reports carried a clear political agenda and where clearly aimed at seeking to embarrass us and those politicians.
  • Instances where commercial competitors have used their access to and influence over state officials to instigate and direct actions against ourselves.
  • Instances where information obtained from us by way of state actions, ended up in the hands of our commercial competitors.
  • Conducting raids against some of us under the pretext of one statutory provision, whereas the true intent was to achieve an entirely different outcome to our detriment.
  • Preferential treatment obtained by some multi-nationals including attendance of senior government officials at their conferences and purporting to act on behalf of the entire local tobacco industry stakeholders, subsequent media statements intended to vilify us in the public domain, the escorting of deliveries by state resources whereas we have to pay for our own security, to name but a few.

We will expect of the state to investigate these complaints with the same vigour and allocation of resources as they have done in the multiple inspections, raids and criminal investigations against some of our members in the past. Where the state fails to do so, or where prosecutions are not instituted, we have instructed our attorneys to obtain nolle prosequi certificates from the National Prosecuting Authority with the intention to consider instituting private prosecutions against those suspects. We have also instructed our attorneys to advise us on any civil proceedings we may institute, and we have registered and will continue to register further complaints with the Competition Commission.

We are, as previously indicated, in possession of sworn to and draft affidavits obtained from former state officials, intelligence agents and persons who were involved in these practices in support of our cases. These clearly demonstrate that the has been clear collusion between private multinationals, their private investigators and state officials to drive a clear agenda against some of our members. Unfortunately, these practices seem to be rearing their ugly head again. These practices are not lawful, have had, and will continue to have a negative impact on us as growing local businesses. We believe it incumbent on the state to put measures in place to level the playing fields, and give us, as local employers and contributors to the economy, equal hearing and platforms.

We trust that with the advent of the so-called New Dawn and the appointment of a new National Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the establishment or revival of key law enforcement agencies, our concerns as raised herein above will be dealt with on the same level as those of the multinationals.

 

Issued by the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association: 5 March 2019

For queries kindly contact Monique Vogel t: 072 720 7919; e: Monique@fita.co.za

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