Smoke Screen: the key characters

Belinda Walter – the protagonist of our story. She’s a triple agent who’s playing every side. Ostensibly a lawyer representing BAT’s rivals – the smaller, Southern African Tobacco manufacturers. But she’s actually a spy – working for BAT for thousands of dollars. She’s also a paid informant for the South African state intelligence agency.

Malcolm Rees – a young journalist for the South African Sunday Times investigating the tobacco industry. Belinda was one of Malcolm’s sources. She confided her secret role to Malcolm in a fateful meeting in February 2014. It’s a meeting which would set in motion a series of events eventually costing Malcolm his career.

Johann Van Loggerenberg – a former senior investigator and tax official at the South African Revenue Service. Johan was leading an investigation which involved BAT’s secret payments. The investigation was called Project Honey Badger. By chance, he met and fell in love with Belinda Walter – BAT’s spy. Together, they were going to take BAT on. But Belinda would turn against Johann, derailing his investigation and undermining his professional reputation.

Francois van der Westhuizen a South African ex-cop who worked for a company called Forensic Security Services (FSS). Contracted by BAT, the company was the boots on the ground of their operation. Francois grew disillusioned with his work and left FFS – taking with him a cache of secret documents. His testimony is a window into the world of the shadowy gang of ex-cops that BAT employed as their enforcers in South Africa.

Yusuf Kajee – a tobacco mogul, with a long history in the dangerous world of the South African cigarette trade. He was one of Belinda’s clients and his company was one of BAT’s targets.

Adriano Mazzotti – another tobacco mogul who Belinda represented, and another target of BAT’s espionage. He got Belinda to write down her testimony in an affidavit to take to the UK authorities in London. But on the morning they were due to speak to the cops, Belinda got cold feet and refused to sign the document. And then … she disappeared for good.

“The Englishman” – Belinda’s first BAT handler.

“The Welshman” – Belinda’s second BAT handler. Belinda secretly recorded him discussing their clandestine payments.

“The Scotsman” – the head of BAT’s anti illicit unit in London and Belinda’s third handler. Before he joined BAT, he was in the British Army in intelligence.

Rob Rose – Malcolm’s editor at the Sunday Times

The Fixer – an anonymous source who helps lift the lid on a potential bribe paid by BAT to the Mugabe regime in South Africa.

Our experts

Telita Snyckers – a former tax official at the South African Revenue Service who knows the South African tobacco scene inside out.

Andy Rowell – a journalist and academic researcher at the University of Bath.

Jonathan Benton – a British ex-police officer who specialises in financial crime and corruption.

The businesses

British American Tobacco (BAT) – one of the world’s largest tobacco companies and the dominant force in the South African tobacco market. Using its deep pockets it put together a network of spies and informants. It says it was simply helping law enforcement clamp down on tobacco smuggling. But our investigation suggests that it may have had a much more sinister motive – damaging its competitors and keeping its grip on the market.

Forensic Security Services (FSS) – the private police force employed by BAT to be their boots on the ground. Mainly made up of South African ex-cops, many of whom came of age during the apartheid era.

South African Revenue Service (SARS) – the South African equivalent of HMRC. Tax might not sound very sexy, but these are the guys who have come closest to holding BAT to account. They were Johann Van Loggerenberg's employers while he was working on Project Honey Badger.

State Security Agency (SSA) – the equivalent of the UK’s MI5, spooks and secret agents. They were the first ones to recruit Belinda. She claims it was her state handler who pushed her to become a spy for BAT.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)– the British equivalent of SARS.

Serious Fraud Office (SFO) – the UK government body responsible for prosecuting serious financial crimes. It opened an investigation into BAT in 2017, but earlier this year it shut it down due to insufficient evidence.