Word: This text was up to date on March 26, 2021 to incorporate feedback from Apollinaire Compaoré.
Two troubling current investigations from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Mission (OCCRP) have shone a recent highlight on the tobacco trade’s continued complicity in tobacco smuggling in Africa. The primary highlighted how Philip Morris (PMI)’s consultant in Burkina Faso, Apollinaire Compaoré, stays within the tobacco big’s make use of regardless of being well-known all through the area for his unlawful buying and selling exercise, with the UN even explicitly figuring out him as a tobacco smuggler.
In the meantime, the second report is maybe much more damning for the tobacco trade. In it, the OCCRP uncovers the extent to which one other main participant, British American Tobacco (BAT), is fuelling the illicit commerce in Mali. By oversupplying the nation with the foreknowledge that the excess will fall into the fingers of smugglers and stoke instability by filling the coffers of extremist militant networks, BAT is maximising its income whereas undermining taxation schemes and public well being initiatives alike within the nation.
Collectively, the 2 investigations spotlight what public well being campaigners and trade insiders have lengthy warned: whereas Huge Tobacco might discuss an enormous sport on stamping out the black market, it’s itself deeply concerned within the unlawful tobacco commerce in Africa and past. The recent reminder of how the tobacco trade solely has its personal pursuits at coronary heart ought to give governments new impetus to withstand trade interference with their tobacco management measures, notably the track-and-trace programs designed to chop down on the parallel tobacco commerce.
PMI’s man in Ouagadougou
The only real distributor of Philip Morris tobacco merchandise in Burkina Faso is SODICOM, an organization owned by Apollinaire Compaoré—a controversial determine nicknamed the “boss of bosses” in a not-too-subtle nod to The Godfather. Compaoré, one of many richest males within the nation and a rumoured relative of former Burkinabé president Blaise Compaoré, has parlayed his plentiful buddies in excessive locations right into a profitable enterprise empire encompassing every little thing from telecoms to lottery tickets, to not point out his place with PMI.
In line with the OCCRP investigation, Compaoré’s entrepreneurial bent extends to much less authorized actions as effectively. Former colleagues, in addition to trade insiders, have claimed that the “boss of bosses” has been liable for trafficking “many, many billions” of contraband cigarettes throughout West Africa, smuggling which doubtless funded rebel teams. Compaoré’s agency SOBUREX has been implicated in smuggling PMI merchandise illegally in three nations, whereas each SOBUREX and SODICOM are registered with Burkina Faso’s Chamber of Commerce, however don’t seem to have paid a single cent in taxes. Anecdotal proof of Compaoré’s vindictive and ruthless nature–together with apparently having workers imprisoned–merely compounds an unflattering portrait of the person to which PMI entrusts all of its Burkinabé enterprise.
If the primary OCCRP report threw aspersions on the integrity of PMI’s African operations, the second drags competitor BAT by way of ditchwater. A veritable mountain of damning proof – collated from leaked inner paperwork, commerce information and on-the-ground interviews with insurgents, trade insiders and ex-BAT workers – shows that the corporate is pumping a surplus of 4.7 billion cigarettes into Mali yearly. By a community of informants, BAT stays abreast of black-market exercise within the nation and brazenly discusses how finest to take advantage of areas of battle for monetary acquire in its inner memos.
Maybe much more concerningly, BAT is seemingly doing all of this with the information (and presumed complicity) of the Malian authorities. Bamako appears to have turned a wilful blind eye to gross inaccuracies in tax figures from Mali’s state-backed tobacco firm Imperial Manufacturers, which helps BAT distribute its cigarettes in areas of the nation managed by rebel militias.
Removed from clamping down on BAT’s chicanery, the customs physique in Mali signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them in 2019—an settlement that solely formalised a mutually helpful relationship constructed on corruption. Certainly, in keeping with an inner doc OCCRP obtained, BAT not solely bankrolled customs raids—with workers of the tobacco firm feeding officers intelligence to permit them to grab tobacco merchandise manufactured by BAT’s opponents—but in addition gifted customs officers new automobiles and patrol boats.
Blood on Huge Tobacco’s fingers
As one trade insider remarked, this mix of oversaturating the market and counting on lax customs enforcement is a time-honoured tobacco trade technique: “oversupply plus lack of native controls results in gray commerce. That’s been an enormous a part of BAT’s […] enterprise mannequin for years”. Certainly, the 2 current OCCRP stories simply add to a staggering backlog of proof that incriminates Huge Tobacco in facilitating the parallel commerce which has killed numerous Africans, both from tobacco-related sicknesses or by way of assaults mounted by insurgents who’ve been funded by the illicit enterprise. Certainly, the tobacco trade has suffered a sequence of high-profile courtroom circumstances and settlements for its involvement within the black market over the past 20 years, most notably in 2004 when PMI agreed to pay the European Fee $1.25 billion.
Shortly after that landmark case, the Framework Conference on Tobacco Management (FCTC) got here into drive, with its Protocol to Get rid of Illicit Commerce not far behind. One of many cornerstones of the instrument is the implementation of a sturdy track-and-trace system supposed to stamp out the black market—a system which the Protocol particularly emphasizes have to be fully unbiased from the tobacco trade.
Unsurprisingly, given its historical past of duplicity, the tobacco trade has gone to nice lengths to worm its method into track-and-trace schemes. PMI devised its personal system, Codentify, which the main tobacco firms have used entrance teams to advertise world wide although consultants don’t consider it match for goal. The trade’s relentless lobbying has paid dividends—the EU track-and-trace system, for instance, has been accused of handing key duties over to the tobacco trade, rendering it ineffective.
The tobacco majors are intensely lobbying African governments to undertake comparable programs—however the current OCCRP stories ought to remind policymakers why the trade can’t be trusted wherever close to very important tobacco management measures like track-and-trace schemes. No system developed or backed by the likes of BAT and PMI will quash illicit commerce—as a result of, because the OCCRP stories have underlined, they’ve a vested curiosity in conserving the underground commerce alive.
Mr. Apollinaire Compaoré issued the next response to this text:
‘Mr. COMPAORÉ objects and strongly stands towards allegations implicating him and his firms, SOBUREX and SODICOM, within the article of the Africa Occasions dated March 18, 2021, entitled: “Huge Tobacco ploughing crooked furrow in African markets”. Traces 5 to eight of the article point out that “Apollinaire Compaoré, stays within the tobacco big’s make use of regardless of being well-known all through the area for his unlawful buying and selling exercise, with the UN even explicitly figuring out him as a tobacco smuggler”. Traces 26 to 29 relate that: “The only real distributor of Philip Morris tobacco merchandise in Burkina Faso is SODICOM, an organization owned by Apollinaire Compaoré—a controversial determine nicknamed the “boss of bosses” in a not-too-subtle nod to The Godfather”. Traces 36 to 42 additionally point out that “[…] the “boss of bosses” has been liable for trafficking “many, many billions” of contraband cigarettes throughout West Africa, smuggling which doubtless funded rebel teams. Compaoré’s agency SOBUREX has been implicated in smuggling PMI merchandise illegally in three nations, whereas each SOBUREX and SODICOM are registered with Burkina Faso’s Chamber of Commerce, however don’t seem to have paid a single cent in taxes”.
Mr. COMPAORÉ needs to emphasise that such allegations and accusations are unfounded and unacceptable. Mr. COMPAORÉ and his firms, by no means have and by no means will perform any smuggling actions, by no means have and by no means will work, instantly or not directly, with any rebel teams, in addition to they by no means have financed, instantly or not directly any unlawful goal. Furthermore, Mr. COMPAORÉ needs to remind that he has at all times been respectful of Burkinabe laws in addition to all the foundations of worldwide commerce regulation and that he carries out his actions with excessive necessities and professionalism. Since 1996, Mr. COMPAORÉ has at all times had full belief from his revered associate, the Philip Morris firm. All his life, Mr. COMPAORÉ promoted enterprise in strict compliance of the regulation with the one objective to make sure improvement and enrichment of west-African inhabitants. Mr. COMPAORÉ intends to pursue his actions with out having to endure unfounded and systematic mediatic shame everytime he undertakes any exercise by any means. Lastly, Mr. COMPAORÉ confirms his one and solely want is to make sure improvement of enterprise in his nation in full compliance of the rule of regulation.”
Picture: UN Picture/Sylvain Liechti, 17 February 2017, Kidal, Mali, Picture # 715089, Inventive Commons License 2.0