March 8, 2019 / 9:40 AM / 4 months ago

Exclusive: India investigating Philip Morris, Godfrey Phillips: source

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s main financial crime-fighting agency is investigating Philip Morris International Inc and its Indian partner Godfrey Phillips for alleged violation of the country’s laws, a senior directorate source told Reuters on Friday.

Marlboro cigarette packets are seen inside a stall as a man stands outside in New Delhi, India March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The Enforcement Directorate has been looking into both the companies and the scope of the investigation is much broader than the alleged foreign investment law violations highlighted in a Reuters story published on Wednesday, the source said.

Philip Morris has for years paid manufacturing costs to Godfrey Phillips to make its Marlboro cigarettes, circumventing a nine-year-old government ban on foreign direct investment in the industry, Reuters reported based on a review of dozens of internal company documents, which were dated between May 2009 and January 2018. (reut.rs/2NIlHD8)

Three former officials and one former head of the Enforcement Directorate had reviewed the Philip Morris documents for Reuters and said the dealings should be investigated for circumventing India’s foreign direct investment rules.

On Friday, the Enforcement Directorate source declined to comment on whether the ongoing investigation included Reuters reporting findings, but said “this is already under investigation.”

“Both companies are being looked into,” said the source, who declined to be named citing sensitivity of the investigation.

The source declined to share further details of the probe.

A spokesman for the Enforcement Directorate did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Philip Morris and Godfrey did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Philip Morris has previously told Reuters its business arrangements with Godfrey comply with India’s foreign direct investment rules. Godfrey has said all the commercial arrangements “are in complete compliance with the extant regulations governing” India’s foreign direct investment and other laws.

Shares in Godfrey briefly pared gains on Friday following the Reuters report about the investigation. They closed 2 percent higher.

MANUFACTURING CHARGES

India in 2010 prohibited foreign direct investment in cigarette manufacturing, saying this would enhance efforts to curb smoking.

Ahead of the ban, Philip Morris formed a new wholesale trading company with Godfrey. Since then, Godfrey has acted as a contract manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes in India, while Philip Morris’s local unit acts as a wholesale trading company and promotes the brand.

Dozens of internal company documents showed Philip Morris has been indirectly paying costs related to Marlboro cigarette manufacturing in India in a phased manner.

If the Enforcement Directorate finds a company in violation of the rules, Indian law allows it to impose a penalty of up to three times the amount contravened.

(This story has been refiled to change day to Friday in first paragraph).

Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Martin Howell and Jane Merriman

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