British couple attack trade mission to Tanzania after death threats

Sarah Hermitage and Stewart Middleton say Britain is dishonestly promoting East African country as a safe place to invest
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Indy Politics

The Government's drive to promote trade with Tanzania has been attacked after a British couple claimed that a campaign of harassment drove them out of the country. They recently made a police complaint over a death threat daubed at their house in Kent, responsibility for which is unclear.

Sarah Hermitage and her husband, Stewart Middleton, have attacked a recent UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) mission to the country, after they were forced to abandon their farm in Kilimanjaro. They are now seeking to take the Tanzanian government to court over what they say was its failure to protect them in a corrupt business environment, including the actions of a local businessman, Benjamin Mengi, and his media magnate brother, Reginald Mengi.

The couple purchased the lease of Silverdale Farm from Benjamin Mengi, a Tanzanian citizen, in 2004 to establish a sustainable farming project employing 150 people. However, Mr Mengi disputed the deal the following year, at which point the couple claim he began a campaign of threats and intimidation, including death threats, which damaged their property. The couple also believe that a machete attack which left one of their staff permanently crippled was also connected to the dispute.

Last week, the couple, who fled Tanzania in 2008 and relocated to Kent, reacted furiously after it emerged that UKTI led a trade delegation of 14 British firms to the East African country last week. Ms Hermitage said: "It is dishonest of the Government to promote Tanzania as a safe place for British investment … We suffered four years of savage brutality and abuse of law in Tanzania, unimaginable to most in my country, and it continues. It was instigated by powerful individuals, but facilitated by the Tanzanian government."

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Andrew Mitchell

 

This April, three days after coverage of the case in a national newspaper, the couple's home was broken into and a death threat daubed on furniture in their bedroom. The threat said, "Kill Sarah", and included five cemetery cross symbols. According to Ms Hermitage, this "clear death threat" came after the couple made clear their intention to pursue a multimillion- pound case against Tanzania in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) at the World Bank; the following month, Ms Hermitage's lawyer wrote to the chief constable of Kent Police advising him of the "on-going dispute with the government of Tanzania".

He detailed how the couple had been "subjected to a sustained campaign of violence and harassment" in Tanzania, including threats that they would be shot or "cut to pieces" and sent home "in a coffin".

He continued that Ms Hermitage and Mr Middleton had "sought to bring attention to their treatment" and, as a result, had become known as anti-corruption advocates in the media. However, both Reginald and Benjamin Mengi have strongly denied any knowledge of the Kent break-in.

Ms Hermitage was also concerned that a man she believed to be a Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services (TISS) agent attended an anti-corruption lecture she gave in London a month after the break-in.

Steven Finizio, of the WilmerHale legal firm which represents the couple, said the planned ICSID case is an attempt to bring the Tanzanian government to account for failing to protect the British investors, including from what he described as "real threats of death" that forced them to flee the country.

He said: "The warning I would give smaller firms seeking to operate in Tanzania is that the recourses to law may not be there for you in the same way as large-scale investors. The Government may be there to help you if there is trouble on the ground, but, after that, it may place a priority on other concerns, including its relationship with the Tanzanian government."

Last month's UKTI mission follows a Downing Street meeting between David Cameron and the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, in April, which came after the two countries announced a "high-level prosperity partnership".

Ms Hermitage described Britain's charm offensive in East Africa as "dishonest", saying her case "illustrates a climate of governance in Tanzania that discourages private investment and works against the promotion of the well-being of Tanzania's own citizens". She added: "The Government's failure to hold the Tanzanians to account for this is indefensible."

The UK trade mission met with a Tanzanian trade body chaired by Reginald Mengi, who is the 34th richest man in Africa, according to Forbes. In 2012, he sued Sarah Hermitage in Britain for libel over comments made on her blog about the farm case. In a damning High Court ruling in Ms Hermitage's favour, Mr Justice Bean said a campaign by Mr Mengi's newspapers "facilitated Benjamin's corruption of local officials and intimidation of the Middletons and thus helped Benjamin to destroy their investments and grab their properties". He added that, in his newspapers' defamatory campaign, Reginald was "complicit in Benjamin's corruption and intimidation".

Ms Hermitage and Mr Middleton have also received support from the former British high commissioner in neighbouring Kenya, Sir Edward Clay, who clashed with Andrew Mitchell, the then International Development Secretary, over the case. Sir Edward said the Government had "been unwilling to listen" to Ms Hermitage's complaints. He said: "I think it is fair to say that the present government's emphasis on the prosperity agenda in their foreign policy has trumped other considerations, except on the very largest issues."

Reginald Mengi said he was "gratified" to meet the UKTI mission. He added that Ms Hermitage's proposed court case is a matter for the Tanzanian government and said he viewed the 2012 libel judgment against him as "faulty". He categorically denied knowing about any alleged death threats against Ms Hermitage or that he had been contacted by police or anyone else about the allegations.

His brother Benjamin said: "None of the allegations, that I intimidated or filed vexatious litigation, is true. I was totally within my rights to file cases in civil courts and report what I believed to be criminal acts … to the police and I did not use corruption or any other form of influence at any stage of seeking to enforce my rights. It is not true that I arranged for the Middletons to be harmed and I am not aware of any police record of such an allegation being made … I am not aware and have nothing to do with any house-breaking or death threats against Sarah Hermitage."

Amos Msanjila, a spokesperson for the Tanzania High Commission in London, confirmed that a consular official attended a lecture event where Ms Hermitage spoke, but denied it was a member of TISS. A UKTI spokesperson said the Government was working to make sure British companies understood the "various challenges" facing investors in Tanzania.

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