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Espionage claims as tobacco war hots up

Cape Town – Serious allegations of espionage have been levelled against established cigarette manufacturers, including tobacco giant British American Tobacco of Southern Africa (Batsa), in a Western Cape High Court application lodged by Carnilinx, the manufacturer of low-cost brands.

Carnilinx claims that the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (Tisa), of whichBatsa is a principal member, has been carrying out covert, unlawful surveillance of its operations and tracking its vehicles in an effort to force it out of the industry.

Carnilinx is a member of the Fairtrade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) with other low-cost brand manufacturers.

The two associations have been at loggerheads for some time and, in the court application, Carnilinx alleged that Tisa contracted private security firm Forensic Security Services (FSS) to conduct unlawful surveillance of its operations and track its vehicles.

Carnilinx also claims Tisa procured covert electric surveillance of its business premises, delivery vehicles and distributors, intercepted and detained its products, and reported its products to Sars and the police as illicit.

It sought an interdict against Tisa, which it claimed wanted to protect its members against those affiliated to Fita.

Tisa denied most of the incidents as well as the allegations of unlawful conduct.

The difficulty for Carnilinx, however, was the manner in which it lodged the proceedings.

By the time the case went to court, the parties agreed that the matter could not be decided on the papers only and Carnilinx applied to have it referred for trial instead.

In his judgment, Judge Lee Bozalek said the legal underpinnings of the case were certainly not made explicit in Carnilinx’s papers. It was only when it presented its argument that it revealed that it relied on breaches of certain rights.

However, he said there was “little value, if any” to be gained from referring the matter to trial. Judge Bozalek found, instead, that it was best that Carnilinx institute fresh proceedings.

He warned, however, that this did not mean he was suggesting that there was no merit in Carnilinx’s case.

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