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Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula denies link to BAT bribery scandal

By PAUL WAFULA and GRACE WEKESA | December 2nd 2015

Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula has dismissed a BBC investigation linking him to a bribery syndicate to sabotage anti-smoking laws.

The BBC, through its investigative programme Panorama, has accused British American Tobacco (BAT) of bribing senior politicians and top civil servants in East Africa.

BAT is UK's fifth biggest company and last year it sold 667 billion cigarettes and made Sh693 billion (£4.5 billion) profit. It has big operations in Kenya.

Yesterday, Wetang'ula denied receiving any air ticket and money to necessitate his travel to London.

"At my level? This is ridiculous to the extreme. I am very angry because I listened to BBC and my name was not mentioned. I have never travelled to London with my wife nor visited BAT offices. It defeats logic; I cannot stoop that low to be paid for an air ticket worth Sh100,000. This is maligning my name," he said.

The programme, dubbed The Secret Bribes of Big Tobacco, also names Ms Julie Adell-Owino, a Kenyan lobbyist who allegedly arranged bribes totalling Sh2.6 million ($26,000) for three public officials in Rwanda, Burundi and the Comoros Islands. She is a former head of corporate and regulatory affairs at BAT.

All three officials were connected to a United Nations effort to reduce the number of tobacco-related deaths.The probe alleges that in July 2012, Adell-Owino requested the purchase of a business class plane ticket to London for Wetang'ula, Kenya's former Trade minister.

The email says Wetang'ula will be "hosted at Globe House" - BAT's London headquarters. Adell-Owino's email said the transaction should be "paperless" and there should be "no receipts if any in his name".

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BAT, in a document from a UK employment tribunal, describes the payments to these officials as "unlawful bribes".

Contacted by the BBC, Wetang'ula said he was "shocked" and "upset" and would take legal action against anybody circulating "such a crude rumour" against him.

"I did not receive any ticket or any money... I never had dealings with BAT," said the senator, threatening to sue the BBC and the Standard Group.

The tobacco firm allegedly paid for a business class return flight for his wife to London. He questioned the timing of the report, arguing it was targeting his personal character and was in bad faith.

"This is baseless and aimed at tarnishing my reputation and political career. The timing has an evil agenda,'' said the Senate minority leader.

He further said he had instructed his lawyers to take up the matter.

"My lawyer, Senator James Orengo, is following the matter. We shall meet in court," he added.

Panorama said it had spent five months probing bribery at BAT.

The investigation relied on evidence of a former BAT employee, Paul Hopkins, who is now a whistle-blower. He says part of his job was arranging bribes.

Mr Hopkins, who served in the Irish Special Forces before working for BAT, claims he was a commercial "hitman" in an interview broadcast on BBC One's Panorama.

Ms Adell-Owino argues the recordings were done after she left BAT and could not comment on what happened in her absence.

But she has denied authorising any payments. Ms Owino resigned yesterday from her job at East African Breweries Limited, a day after the scandal broke.

"I was not in any position to have instructed payments of any kind to any individual on behalf of BAT while I was there or at a time when I was no longer in employment of the company," she said.

"I have also seen allegations to the effect that I requested and/or authorised the procurement of an alleged air ticket for Senator Wetangula's wife. I'd like to highlight that the allegation is based on an alleged pseudo email whose integrity cannot be authenticated and reiterate that I was not involved.

"In light of the fact that I had no part in authorising the alleged payments, and/or was no longer in employment at BAT, I cannot offer comment on any of those alleged payments," she added.

The investigations allege Ms Adell-Owino used a pseudonym (Amanda) and a non-BAT email address ([email protected]) in the scandal.

She sent the emails to a BAT manager, who was also using a pseudonym (John Smith) and a non-BAT email ([email protected]). The manager forwarded them to a contractor known as "Andrew" to facilitate the bribes.

Adell-Owino "categorically denied" involvement in bribery and said BAT "mistakenly believed" the payments were bribes.

In one email, Adell-Owino requests that Sh300,000 ($3,000) be paid to Godefroid Kamwenubusa, an official at Burundi's Health ministry and one of its representatives to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

According to her Facebook page, Ms Adell-Owino's status shows she left BAT, is now self-employed, and lives in Amboseli in the Rift Valley.

Under the UK Bribery Act, British firms can be prosecuted for bribery which takes place overseas.

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