UK ambassador to Yemen took part in opening of Jordanian cigarette factory

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A UK ambassador took portion successful the opening ceremonial of a Jordanian cigaret mill part-owned by British American Tobacco (BAT) and praised the caller installation successful a televised interview, successful the latest illustration of British diplomats breaching strict guidelines against mixing with the baccy manufacture overseas.

The envoy stood astatine the ribbon arsenic it was chopped and aboriginal appeared successful promotional worldly connected the baccy company’s website, but nary grounds of his beingness astatine the lawsuit was kept by the British embassy successful Amman due to the fact that the lawsuit was not considered a “formal meeting”.

It was discovered aboriginal by a researcher who monitors Arabic-language media – and who waged a year-long state of accusation (FOI) run to person the Foreign Office corroborate it.

The 2019 incident, which the ambassador said was an honorable mistake, is portion of a signifier of British officials appearing to beforehand the interests of large baccy successful processing countries, successful opposition to the concern astatine home, wherever the UK is considered a satellite person successful restricting interactions betwixt the authorities and cigaret companies.

Smoking rates successful the Middle East person grown rapidly implicit the past decades, conscionable arsenic cigaret usage has been declining successful Europe and the US. The Guardian revealed successful 2020 that Jordan’s baccy depletion rates were the highest ever recorded anyplace by a World Health Organization survey.

The opening of the mill by the Yemeni cigaret shaper Kamaran, astir a 3rd of which is owned by BAT, was reported successful a Yemeni newspaper, which noted that the lawsuit was attended by respective Arab ambassadors arsenic good arsenic the past British ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron.

“I thought this mightiness beryllium a mistake,” said Raouf Alebshehy, from the baccy power probe radical astatine the University of Bath, who discovered the article.

Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) guidelines strictly prohibit diplomats from attending events sponsored by baccy companies, noting specifically that the prohibition would include, for example, “the authoritative opening of a UK baccy mill overseas”.

Further probe confirmed that not lone had Aron attended the event, but helium had fixed a Yemen TV interview saying helium believed the mill would beryllium a invaluable investment, some for BAT and the Yemeni economy.

The UK is simply a signatory to a World Health Organization pact that obliges it to restrict enactment betwixt authorities officials and baccy companies lone to what is indispensable to modulate its products.

Alebshehy lodged an FOI petition with the Foreign Office seeking much details of the diplomat’s engagement successful the event, and erstwhile they responded months later, the mill opening was not mentioned.

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He appealed to the accusation commissioner’s office, which had received acknowledgment that Aron had so attended the lawsuit but said the embassy successful Amman had “no ceremonial record” of him doing so, due to the fact that it lone kept details of “formal meetings and not receptions/launch events specified arsenic this”.

Aron, who has since near the Foreign Office, told the Guardian helium had made an mistake successful attending the lawsuit and that helium did truthful retired of courtesy to the Yemeni concern community. “In retrospect, I judge it was a mistake and had nary volition whatsoever successful promoting the baccy company,” helium said.

The Foreign Office has regularly been criticised successful the past for appearing to usage its power to assistance BAT’s overseas businesses. The erstwhile precocious commissioner to Bangladesh intervened successful 2017 to assistance BAT successful a taxation quality with the government. In 2015, the precocious commissioner to Pakistan attended a lobbying gathering betwixt BAT and the country’s concern ministry.

The aforesaid year, Foreign Office unit were seconded to enactment successful BAT offices successful Hungary, portion successful 2020, British diplomats successful Pakistan were recovered to person attended the motorboat of a BAT nicotine pouch.

“Our ambassadors regularly prosecute with the backstage assemblage successful some a ceremonial and informal capacity,” the FCDO said connected Sunday. It besides reiterated what it told the accusation commissioner – that it did not grounds the lawsuit due to the fact that it was not considered a ceremonial engagement.

Alebshehy said the ambassador’s beingness astatine the mill successful Jordan whitethorn person been an oversight, but the information that it went unrecorded by the embassy raised questions implicit however galore different interactions with baccy companies successful poorer countries are going unscrutinised.

“It is highly hard [to way these interactions] because, arsenic you spot successful this incident, the ambassador was speaking successful Arabic, it was reported successful Arabic media. I’m an Arabic speaker, truthful I picked it up, but successful different circumstances it wouldn’t beryllium arsenic easy,” helium said.

“We don’t cognize what’s happening successful different places, what different meetings are happening.”

Campaigners successful Jordan blamed the accrued smoking rates connected governmental interference by baccy companies to blunt the adoption of the kinds of stringent anti-tobacco laws that person curbed cigaret usage successful the west, a inclination they said was mirrored crossed the planetary south.

Alebshehy’s findings were published successful a public-health diary connected Friday.

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