Global cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco (BAT) was allegedly paying informers to commit industrial espionage by spying from inside rival companies, the Business Times reported yesterday. The claims were substantiated by affidavits, audio and video recordings including financial statements and evidence from sources close to the SA Revenue Service (Sars) and a senior BAT agents, the newspaper said. BAT reportedly launched the network in a bid to stifle the multibillion-rand illegal cigarette industry but might have broken a number of laws in South Africa and the UK, where the parent firm resides, the newspaper reported. In return for information, BAT gave South African informants Travelex cards, registered in the UK under different names and recharged with cash over the internet. This enabled the cards to be used at local ATMs, the Business Times said. A BAT executive said UK tax authorities were investigating payments. Its UK office allegedly refused to comment. Sars declined to comment specifically. Adrian Lackay, a Sars spokesman, told the newspaper: “Hypothetically, if such a practice exists [and] depending on certain factors, it may suggest the presence of elements of tax evasion, exchange control violations and money laundering.” – Asha Speckman