By Bisi LAWAL
British American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) Limited and affiliated companies have been fined $110 million for allegedly violating relevant laws.
The Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) said the penalty was part of the resolution reached between the company, its parties and the commission after an investigation into possible violations of the FCCPC Act, 2018 as well as relevant tobacco control laws, regulations and directives.
In a statement by the Chief Executive Officer of FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, the commission noted that on August 28, 2020, it opened an active investigation concerning the company and its affiliates, also known BAT parties, based on its “satisfaction that a series of credible pieces of information and intelligence were actionable enough for broader and deeper inquiry concerning certain conduct, for, by and on behalf of BAT Parties.
“Upon satisfying the Federal High Court that there was probable cause and sufficient evidence to exercise advanced statutory regulatory/investigatory tools, the court issued an order and warrant of search and seizure.
“In furtherance, and pursuant to the order and warrant, the commission on January 25, 2021, executed simultaneous and contemporaneous searches and seizures at multiple BAT parties’ locations and a location of a service provider.
“The commission gathered, received and procured substantial evidence from forensic analysis of electronic communications and other information/data obtained during the search, as well as other evidence procured during, and after the search from other legitimate sources.
“Additional investigation, including proffers, hearings, transcripts of sworn testimonies, and continuing analysis of evidence established and supported multiple violations of the FCCPA and other enactments,” it said.
The commission further noted that during the investigation and in furtherance of mutual engagements with BAT parties, the company sought, in writing, and the commission accepted its cooperation under the Commission’s Cooperation/Assistance Rules and Procedure, 2021, CARP.
“The Cooperation/Assistance Framework (CAF) provides for benefits such as possible reduced monetary penalties (rule 4.1); waiver of the application of the Commission’s Administrative Penalties Regulations 2020 (rule 4.2); as well as prosecutorial discretion, particularly rules 5.1 and 5.3 (subject to compliance with Rules 3 and 5.4).
“Upon full consideration of the record, BAT parties’ additional articulation, representations and correspondence; totality of evidence procured, violations established under law, BAT Parties’ entry into, and conduct in cooperation and assistance under the Commission’s CAF. The commission closed the investigation by the Commission and BAT Parties’ mutual execution of a Consent Order and Notice with both parties agreeing:
“That BAT Parties shall pay a penalty of $110,000,000 (One Hundred and Ten Million Dollars) under and pursuant to Sections 155 of the FCCPA, Clause 11 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s Administrative Penalties Regulations, 2020 and Clause 4.2 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s Investigative Cooperation/Assistance Rules and Procedures, 2021;
“That BAT Parties’ shall be subject to compliance and monitoring under the supervision of the Commission for a period of 24 months to ensure appropriate behavioural and business practices modification to be more consistent with compliance with prevailing competition laws/regulations; and tobacco control efforts.
“Mandatory public health and tobacco control advocacy in a manner compliant with tobacco control legislation and regulations, and satisfactory to the Commission as mitigation to evidence of a pattern of undermining and circumventing national tobacco control policies and regulations; and that BAT parties shall provide written assurances to the commission pursuant to Section 153 of the FCCPA as required,” the statement said.