Claim Made that UK Tobacco Firm Tried to Woo Hezbollah

Private Eye magazine draws attention (1) to a curious story that links Hezbollah with Gallaher, the British tobacco firm that makes Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges cigarettes. Gallaher is apparently in a legal dispute with its former Middle East distributor, Tlais Enterprises Ltd (TEL). One of TEL’s complaints against Gallaher is that it allegedly tried to use Hezbollah to lobby the Iranian government to refund tax on damaged goods, in return for which Hezbollah would receive £250,000 if they were successful. The allegations first surfaced back in February, in the Sunday Times:

Yesterday Gallaher, the maker of Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut cigarettes, “denied categorically” that it had entered into any arrangement with Hezbollah.

…However, Tlais Enterprises, which is owned and run by Ptolomeous Tlais (2), a Lebanese businessman, states in a High Court claim which was lodged last week that: “Gallaher enlisted the services of a Middle Eastern group (that is proscribed in the US) to negotiate on its behalf, in an attempt to recover the duty.”

The deal, however, fell through, for a rather predictable reason:

…According to a source close to the negotiations, the radical Islamic group had an objection to dealing with tobacco.

Private Eye now adds:

[TEL barrister Dinos] Saveriades told the Eye that Gallaher, realising the sensitivity of using Hezbollah, advised against referring to it in any correspondence. From then on an abundance of letters, seen by the Eye, refers simply to “the group”.

…when he tried to hand up a transcript from a covertly recorded video of two senior Gallaher executives apparently discussing the Hezbollah deal, the judge declined. The video has been disclosed as part of the evidence by TEL to Gallaher, which told the court that it disputed its authenticity. But here’s a flavour of its contents: “The resolution of the duty issue into Iran is in the hands of Hezbollah. If Hezbollah can’t do it, it probably can’t be done.”

Gallaher’s website, meanwhile, tells us that

…We are committed to responsible behaviour and high ethical values in the way we conduct our business. Underpinning these key principles is our behaving responsibly values statement.

UPDATE: When I wrote the above, I was unaware of a 2002 New Yorker report which claimed that Hezbollah actually raises some funds through tobacco smuggling in South America. Hezbollah is also allegedly involved with the marijuana trade in the middle east, including the Israeli market. Some Israeli marijuana users are now responding with a boycott.


(1) Paper only – issue 1164 p. 29.

(2) Private Eye states that the owner is Abu Hameed, who is Tlais’s brother.

2 Responses

  1. […] presence among Lebanese Venezuelans has been known for some time, and a few months ago I noted the organisation’s involvement in South American tobacco smuggling. However, details of the […]

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