Kent couple lose hundreds of thousands of pounds after Tanzanian businessman’s “corrupt campaign” to take back their 500-acre farm
British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) greets the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, outside 10 Downing Street Photo: AFP
Jakaya Kikwete this week met the Prime Minister for a series of meetings at Downing Street that focused on winning multi-billion pound deals for British energy companies in Tanzania.
But Sarah Hermitage and Stewart Middleton have so far fought for 10 years for compensation for what they say is the theft of their farm near the northern Tanzanian town of Moshi, into which they had invested hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The couple is “very frustrated, to say the least” to see Mr Cameron stand alongside Mr Kikwete as he talked of eradicating corruption in business deals, Mrs Hermitage told The Telegraph.
“The Prime Minister seems happy to stand there and hear Mr Kikwete portray Tanzania as a safe place for British investment, to which I would say that could not be further from the truth,” she said.
“The legal system is corrupt, the police are corrupt, and it is very, very difficult to get anyone to help you as an investor if you run into trouble with powerful people there.
“Somebody, in the High Commission in Dar es Salaam, in London, someone somewhere needs to recognise the pain we’ve been through.”
Mrs Hermitage and Mr Middleton have faced death threats, armed invasions of their farm, repeated arrest and imprisonment on trumped up charges, and vilification in Tanzanian newspapers over their purchase of the land.
The seller, a Moshi businessman whose brother Reginald Mengi owns one of East Africa’s largest media companies and is close to Mr Kikwete, sold the couple the lease to Silverdale Farm in 2004 then a year later demanded it back.
The couple refused, prompting a “campaign of harassment” that forced them to “flee for their lives”, according to a British High Court judge who threw out libel charges Mr Mengi brought against Mrs Hermitage.
In his Nov 2012 ruling, Mr Justice Bean agreed with Mrs Hermitage that Mr Mengi’s newspapers carried out “journalistic terrorism” on the British couple, to support his brother’s “corrupt campaign to grab the farm”.
Mr Mengi did not challenge the couple’s allegations in court, the ruling said.
“What I really want to emphasise is that Britain is in bed with the Tanzanian government because it wants major gas companies to win contracts there,” Mrs Hermitage said.
“This stuff about promising to look after smaller investors, to protect us, it’s just rhetoric.”
Mrs Hermitage and Mr Middleton are living near Canterbury while they continue their legal fight for compensation for the loss of their investment.
A Downing Street spokesman said that during their discussions on Monday, Mr Cameron and Mr Kikwete “agreed that combating corruption and promoting transparency, accountability and the rule of law were essential for development”.