tobacco industry

British American Tobacco to pay more than $635M in North Korea sanctions case


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British American Tobacco to pay more than $635M in North Korea sanctions case

TOBACCO. A woman poses with a cigarette in front of a British American Tobacco logo in this illustration photo taken July 26, 2022.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters

British American Tobacco CEO Jack Bowles acknowledges that the company 'fell short of the highest standards' as it sold tobacco to North Korea from 2007 to 2017

WASHINGTON, USA – British American Tobacco has agreed to pay more than $635 million to US authorities after a subsidiary pleaded guilty to charges that it conspired to violate US sanctions by selling tobacco products to North Korea and commit bank fraud, a US court filing and the company said on Tuesday, April 25.

The tobacco sales at the heart of Tuesday’s settlement took place from 2007 to 2017 to the isolated Communist nation, according to both the company and the Department of Justice (DOJ). North Korea faces an array of US sanctions to choke off funding for its nuclear and ballistic missile program.

“This case and others like it do serve as a warning shot to companies,” Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s National Security Division, told a news conference.

The case represents the “single largest North Korea sanctions penalty” in justice department history, he said.

British American Tobacco, the world’s second biggest tobacco group, makes Lucky Strike and Dunhill cigarettes.

Its annual report for 2019 said the group has operations in a number of nations that are subject to various sanctions, including Iran and Cuba, and that operations in these countries expose the company to the risk of “significant financial costs.”

In a statement, British American Tobacco said it has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, while one of its indirect subsidiaries in Singapore – BAT Marketing Singapore – pleaded guilty.

It also separately entered a civil settlement with the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The $635.2-million payment to US authorities is the total to cover the three cases, the company said.

“We deeply regret the misconduct arising from historical business activities that led to these settlements, and acknowledge that we fell short of the highest standards rightly expected of us,” the company’s chief executive officer Jack Bowles said in a statement.

In a court filing, the DOJ said the company also conspired to defraud financial institutions in order to get them to process transactions on behalf of North Korean entities.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is known as a chain smoker – frequently seen with a cigarette in hand in photographs in state media. A US push for the United Nations Security Council to ban exports to North Korea of tobacco and manufactured tobacco was vetoed by Russia and China in May last year.

In addition to the settlement with British American Tobacco, the DOJ on Tuesday also disclosed criminal charges against North Korean banker Sim Hyon-sop, 39, and Chinese facilitators Qin Guoming, 60, and Han Linlin, 41, as part of a “multi-year scheme to facilitate the sale of tobacco to North Korea.”

From 2009 through 2019, the DOJ said they purchased leaf tobacco for North Korean state-owned cigarette manufacturers and falsified documents to trick US banks into processing at least 310 transactions worth $74 million that would have otherwise been blocked due to sanctions.

The government said North Korean manufacturers, including one owned by the North Korean military, were able to reap about $700 million in revenue thanks to those illicit transactions.

The three defendants remain at large.

The US Department of State is offering a reward of $5 million for Sim, and a reward of $500,000 for Qin and Han, for information leading to their capture.

On Monday, April 24, the Treasury also imposed sanctions on Sim, a move that cuts him off from accessing the US banking system. –

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