Engage BCW, a PR agency affiliated to troubled WPP Scangroup, is now on the spot after one of its agents tried to bribe a journalist to expose one of their clients, British American Tobacco (BAT) Kenya.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the agent was seeking a leak of an investigation on how the company has targeted young non-smokers.
The Bureau had commissioned Edwin Okoth to do the investigation when the unnamed employee approached him after getting wind of the investigation.
“Morning, please send me a snippet from the dossier, or what is your price?” reads a WhatsApp message from the agent.
The agent further tried to convince Okoth to share the details to help contain the client, since the agent’s job would be on the line if he failed in intelligence gathering.
“It will help me manage the client. I know it might not be the best thing to do for you but I am not intending to kill the story. It’s just helping a bro. I am sure you wouldn’t want me to get fired for not being good at media intelligence,” read another text.
This comes weeks after the United Kingdom (UK) government suspended investigations against BAT over bribery allegations.
The cigarette manufacturer had been accused of systematic bribery syndicate in Nairobi aimed at stifling anti-smoking laws.
Also, BAT had been accused of collecting business intelligence on rivals, in a bid to outwit them.
“It is normally expected that an agency representing a multinational will be more professional … I was shocked that this person was actually acting on behalf of this respectable multinational from Britain. My shock was how bold they were … BAT being cleared [by the SFO], that was the point of them becoming bold,” Mr Okoth told the Bureau.
BAT has already cut ties with Engage, saying that they do not tolerate “improper conduct anywhere in the world”.
“BAT Kenya has, with immediate effect, stopped all activities with Engage BCW Kenya, and a full investigation into the allegations has been launched … We will not tolerate improper conduct anywhere in the world and take allegations of misconduct extremely seriously,” BAT said in a statement.
Engage on the other side have since suspended the employee, according to a representative quoted by the Bureau.
“We are committed to the highest standards of behavior in all our work and we take this issue extremely seriously. We have immediately commenced an internal investigation and suspended the employee concerned pending its outcome,” the representative said.
UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) ended the bribery investigation against BAT in January, citing lack of evidence on the allegations leveled against BAT.
According to SFO, the little evidence gathered “did not meet the evidential test for prosecution as defined in the Code for Crown Prosecutors”.
Former Justice minister Martha Karua and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula had been adversely mentioned in the scandal.
The alleged scandal erupted in 2015, when one of BAT’s employees told BBC that he was used to deliver the bribes to top government officials, including MPs.