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Judge Denies BAT Bid to Exclude Documents

WASHINGTON -- The judge overseeing the U.S. government's $280 billion racketeering case against major tobacco companies has rejected a bid by a British American Tobacco unit to keep some disputed documents out of the trial, reported Reuters.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler denied a motion by British American Tobacco Investments that would have excluded evidence from BAT's Australian subsidiary about the company's document retention policy.

In seeking to exclude them from the trial, the company had argued the documents are not relevant to the charges. Justice Department lawyers have long sought a key memorandum from the Australian unit that relates to BAT's document retention policy. But the company has resisted -- arguing that it was privileged.

A federal appeals court is currently reviewing the question of whether BAT should be forced to turn over the documents. The trial is scheduled to start in September.

The racketeering lawsuit, filed by the Clinton administration in 1999, accuses British American Tobacco and other companies of deliberately misleading the public about the risks of smoking in a conspiracy going back to the 1950s.

Also targeted in the lawsuit are Philip Morris USA and Altria; Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit, which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group; Vector Group's Liggett Group; and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the main unit of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings. A new parent company, Reynolds American, was formed on July 30 after British American Tobacco and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings combined their U.S. tobacco operations.

BAT spokeswoman Ann Tradigo said the ruling was only one step in the case and not the final word on the disputed documents.
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