By Alessia Cerantola for OCCRP
When senior Rome customs official Concetta Anna Di Pietro received a call from her colleague in Milan telling her that British American Tobacco had put out unauthorized signs advertising its cigarette prices as “locked in” at current rates — unlike their competitors’ –— she flew into a rage.
Di Pietro’s anger was captured in wiretaps made by police, who arrested her in December 2019 over allegations that she colluded with Philip Morris, the main rival of British American Tobacco (BAT) in Italy. She was accused of leaking confidential information and delaying announcements on changes in tax rates to give Philip Morris an edge in making pricing decisions.
The signage sent her into a spin not only because it was illegal, but because it advertised that BAT was keeping its prices the same — just days after it was announced that Philip Morris would increase the cost of its cigarettes. Customs officials, who police say were being bribed by a senior Philip Morris executive in Italy, went so far as to order raids on tobacconists who carried the advertisements in Milan, Rome, Naples, and Florence.
Soon after receiving the call from Milan, Di Pietro spoke to Fabio Carducci, another customs official in Rome, and told him the bosses were livid about the advertisement. “What the fuck have they started?” she asked. “The tobacconists mustn’t use those signs.”
Then she called Fabio Pacella, a customs director for the region of Lombardy, which covers Milan, and demanded he punish the shops displaying BAT’s unauthorized ads.
“You must break the tobacconists,” she ordered him, according to a police transcript.