Judegment Day At The High Court London

Judegment Day At The High Court London
Mengi v Hermitage: Libel Claim Successfully Defended

Saturday, 19 April 2014

BG Group Chairman Andrew Gould: Silverdale Farm issue “nothing to do with us”.

I wonder what the world would look like now if the British government and Western allies had said to Nazi invaded Europe,  “We are sorry, we cannot assist you with this matter as it is a dispute that does not concern us” ?

BG Group invested in Tanzania in 2010 and has a 60% interest in offshore oil Blocks and is one of the most prominent British investors in the country.

Andrew Gould, Chairman of the company states:-

“I have spent 39 years in this industry and have worked with all types of oil and gas companies all over the world. When I decided to join BG Group it was on the basis of the exceptionally exciting opportunity the portfolio presented.”

Andrew Gould: Chairman of British Gas

No doubt BG group’s investment in Tanzania is a very exciting proposition for the company. After all, there are seemingly huge profits to be made in gas over the next few years by securing Tanzanian contracts.

As a multimillion $ investors in Tanzania, BG group has immense economic clout and influence upon the government of Tanzania to encourage and secure an effective investor environment both for the Group and, other British investors that seek to invest in the country. It would, it is suggested here, be irresponsible to say the least, to ignore issues of pervasive corruption that  impact upon that environment.

In March 2014, I sent the following letter to Andrew Gould, seeking his assistance in the Silverdale Farm issue i.e., to hold the Tanzanian government to account for the abuse of law that had led to the destruction of British investment in Tanzania. Investment the owners of which, did not have the economic clout to protect in the face of legal abuse.

I sent the following to Mr Gould on 14th March 2014:-

Dear Mr Gould,

I am writing to you in respect of the Silverdale Farm issue in Tanzania a country where BG Group has invested in excess of $1 bn.

I am sure you are aware of this case, a case where I and my husband Stewart Middleton were driven from the country by criminality, abuse and intimidation with the loss of our investment and life savings.

To remind you of the details, in 2004 my husband Stewart Middleton and I purchased a 45-year lease to Silverdale & Mbono farms, situated in the Hai District of the Kilimanjaro Region from Benjamin Mengi, brother to Reginald Mengi owner of IPP Media and co-incidentally, Chairman of the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation.

My husband strategically planned the rehabilitation of the farms into a sustainable and profitable operation, to train and develop a skilled workforce that would persist long after his stewardship of the land. Within the first six months the farms were transformed from derelict and commercially-unproductive land into a productive farming operation employing over 150 Tanzanians from the local community and we were the first farms in Tanzania to earn EUREPGAP accreditation.

One year after the assignment, Benjamin Mengi demanded the lease back, stating he had not been paid in full. This was despite the fact that he had signed a receipt for the monies. When we refused to return the lease, he stated that he would drive us out of Tanzania by any means; “cut to pieces in a coffin, if necessary”.

A four-year campaign of violence and harassment was then unleashed against us, facilitated by the police and judiciary and involving a plethora of State institutions. This included:

The refusal of the authorities to register our lease or recognise our Deed of Assignment; 

The destruction of commercial contracts; 

Violence to, and the imprisonment of, our key operational staff; and 

The constant arrest, and ultimate imprisonment, of my husband on trumped-up charges.

Benjamin Mengi drove us from Tanzania using the courts, judiciary and government ministers in a campaign of violence and corruption. This criminal conduct remains unchecked despite the personal promises of President Kikwete and his Foreign Minister Bernard Membe that the rule of law would be upheld in this case.

To add insult to injury, Reginald Mengi sued me for Libel in the High Court in London in October 2012. I had alleged that he had used IPP Media to run a campaign of journalist terrorism against us to support his brother’s campaign to grab our investment.

I successfully defended this case. The judge ruled that Reginald Mengi and his witnesses lied to and misled the UK High Court. Importantly, the court found that he was complicit in the corruption of his brother Benjamin in his attempts to steal our property.

However, the Silverdale Farm issue is not about personalities; it is about the systematic abuse of law and theft of our investment facilitated by government agencies. It is interesting to note that Kikwete has not condemned Reginald Mengi’s (or his brother’s corruption) in this case. Albeit on a small scale, we had the opportunity to provide truly sustainable development in Tanzania and to improve the lives of the poor.

Our experience illustrates how the climate of governance in Tanzania discourages private investment. It also works against the promotion of the well-being of Tanzania’s own citizens.

Favouritism, corruption, a weak and unreliable application of the rule of law, and lack of respect for the freedoms of the media and the rights of citizens have all been demonstrated by our experience. These things are one ball of wax: the Tanzanian authorities should not treat some people worse than others on a whim. Nor can foreigners be treated differently from citizens, if their legal residence and their properly-regulated businesses are to work for the benefit of society and of themselves.

The facts in our case are clear and not disputed. It is at this point that I ask for your assistance in holding the Tanzanian government to account for its failure to uphold the law in respect of our legal rights. Large investors such as the BG Group should not consider investing in Tanzania as if our story had not happened or is of no importance. What has happened to us will be repeated unless the authorities are challenged. I have spent five years challenging the authorities who still persist in ignoring me and the British government’s requests to compensate us for our losses in Tanzania.

We do not have the economic clout or political leverage of the BG Groups in respect of both the Tanzanian and British governments (the latter could and should do more to assist us) and as such I seek your assistance.

I am taking this opportunity of copying this letter to your Chief Executive Officer Mr Chris Finlayson

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Hermitage.

Mr Gould did not respond to this letter personally, he delegated the response which in essence stated that  BG has no right or place to become involved with a dispute that is not linked to British Gas.


So, in effect what is being said is, the government of Tanzania can behave as it pleases towards other investors and Tanzanians but so long as it does not effect British Gas or impact on their business activities in Tanzania then they are not concerned.

Whilst being an incredibly selfish view, Andrew Gould’s perfunctory and obfuscatory dismissal of my request is inaccurate in the extreme.

The Silverdale Farm issue is not a “dispute” no matter how convenient it is for Mr Gould to use that label. The Silverdale Farm issue is about the denial of legal rights, denial of access to law and a failure by the Tanzanian government to uphold the law. As one of the largest investors in Tanzania, it very much concerns Andrew Gould and British Gas.

The facts of this issue are clear and “out there”. Andrew Gould has chosen to ignore them: But then, he is in a position to do so.

In his response to me, Andrew Gould has turned his back on the issues of abuse of law that the Silverdale Farm issue illuminates. He would do well to remember, that it is because of people like me my husband and the bravery of our former Tanzanian staff that the BG Group is able to invest in Tanzania. He has dismissed both with unconscionable ease. In doing so, he has dismissed the lives and struggles of decent Tanzanians and illegally dispossessed British investors in the country. Most importantly, he has turned his back on an issue combining commercial illegality, abuse of due process, intimidation, denial of the protection of the rule of law, and of human rights.

In so many ways the Silverdale issue has everything to do with British Gas and I suggest , Andrew Gould’s position is indefensible.

Sarah Hermitage 19th April 2014

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