Tanzanian media baron Reginald Mengi who has lost a lawsuit against British couple Sarah Hermitage and Stewart Middleton.
Reginald Mengi, Tanzania’s media mogul and the industrialist behind the IPP business conglomerate which is one of the largest industrial groups in East Africa, is reeling from the loss of a lawsuit he was ill-advised to take against Sarah Hermitage who with her husband Stewart Middleton lost their farm in Tanzania at the hands of his [Mengi’s] brother Benjamin.
At the High Court in London Friday, Justice Bean ordered Mr Mengi to pay the costs of the lawsuit he brought against Ms Hermitage, estimated at £1.2million (approx. Tanzanian Shillings [TZS]3,072,389,052.43) after finding him guilty of either encouraging or knowingly permitting a hostile and defamatory coverage in his IPP Media-owned English Guardian and Swahili Nipashe newspapers.
Mr Mengi, the Executive Chairman of IPP Ltd, had taken the British couple to court in respect of five postings that appeared on Ms Hermitage’s blog as well as two emails Mr Mengi claims to be false and defamatory to him. During the trial that has lasted three weeks, the court heard evidence from both Sarah and Stewart relating to what happened to them in Tanzania when mostly through threats, intimidation and corruption, they were forced to abandon a farm they had bought from Benjamin Mengi, Reginald’s younger brother.
Mr Justice Bean ruled: “I find that the campaign in the Guardian and Nipashe facilitated Benjamin’s corruption of local officials and the intimidation of the Middletons and thus helped Benjamin to destroy their investments and grab their properties; and that Mr [Reginald] Mengi, since he either encouraged or knowingly permitted the campaign, was in that sense complicit in Benjamin’s corruption and intimidation. The allegation is thus substantially true and justified at common law.”
The media mogul was not in court Friday morning after learning beforehand he had lost the case. Prior to the ruling, he had attended most of the court sessions, missing only one sitting, according to Mr Andrew Stephenson, from Carter-Ruck, the law firm that represented Ms Hermitage and her husband. Speaking by phone to The London Evening Post, Mr Stephenson said it had taken great courage for Ms Hermitage to take on Mr Mengi.
While Ms Hermitage’s case was taken on by Messrs Carter-Ruck on a ‘no win, no pay’ agreement, she with her husband Stewart stood to lose everything they owned and would have had to sell their house to pay Mr Mengi had they lost the case. He had demanded £300,000 in legal costs before the proceedings had started. Speaking to The London Evening Post on the day the case started being heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mrs Hermitage told us: “I am scared!” She feared that losing the case would mean only one thing for her and Stewart; bankruptcy.
In a statement issued through her lawyers, Ms Hermitage said: “I set up my Silverdale Farm blog
Sarah Hermitage and her husband appear at The Royal Courts of Justice in London.
in 2009 to document our horrific experience in Tanzania and to expose as a warning for others the corruption we encountered and our helplessness with no protection from the local courts and officials.” She went on to say that her response to the campaign waged against them by IPP Media was ‘reasonable, proportionate, relevant and without malice’.
“I am relieved that, with the support of my legal team…justice has in the end prevailed in this case,” Ms Hermitage said. She went on to thank ‘the brave and honest Tanzanian journalists’ who she said had ‘either openly or privately assisted in the preparation of’ their case. “I will continue to use my blog, my voice, to do all I can to fight against the corruption I have seen first-hand in Tanzania, not least in the hope that it may in the end help the very good people, not least our loyal staff, who have stood by us throughout,” she said.
The IPP group which Mr Mengi heads is one of the largest industrial groups in East Africa. Among other activities, it includes a Financial Consulting firm (IPP Consulting), a soft drink bottling company in a joint venture with Coca-Cola (Coca-Cola Kwanza, Bonite Bottlers and Kilimanjaro Spring Water), Tanzania’s leading manufacturer of soaps, detergents, and toothpaste (IPP Bodycare Ltd), as well as a media unit (IPP Media) made up of eleven newspapers, three radio stations, and two television channels, one of which operates in each of the three original East African countries; Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda
IPP Media includes The Guardian Ltd., which publishes some of Tanzania’s leading weekly and Sunday newspapers – The Guardian, The Sunday Observer, The Daily Mail, and the Financial Times in English and; Nipashe – Nipashe Jumapili, Alasiri, Kasheshe, and Taifa Letu in Swahili, Independent Television Ltd. (ITV), East Africa Television (EATV, formerly Channel 5), Radio ONE, Sky-FM (in a joint venture with the BBC) and East Africa Radio.
To Sarah Hermitage, being sued by Mr Mengi was like a fight between the biblical David and Goliath. We all know how that story ended. Since losing their Silverdale farm, Ms Hermitage, a former British police officer and currently unemployed British lawyer, has relentlessly pursued her objective of warning other British investors about the dangers they could face if they opened up businesses in Tanzania.
Ms Hermitage on the Tanzania Police Force: “Most evidence suggests it is an uneducated and illiterate body…”
She has quite often lobbied Whitehall questioning the British government’s wisdom of advising British investors to go to Tanzania while the country continues to tolerate corrupt officials and blatantly disregards those like her who have had their fingers burnt when they tried to invest in the country. In an article she wrote for The Landon Evening Post last February, Ms Hermitage accused Western countries of supporting the wide scale abuse of human rights in the country by continuing to pour aid into Tanzania.
A statement issued by Carter-Ruck said: “After handing down judgment, Mr Justice Bean ordered that Reginald Mengi should pay the defence costs at the higher ‘indemnity’ rate.” The statement went on to add: “In reaching this decision, the factors cited by the judge included that Council for Sarah Hermitage had ‘rightly described the litigation as oppressive’, and that ‘enormous costs had been thrown at the case from the beginning, indeed before the issue of proceedings’ and that the evidence of the claimant and his witnesses had in a number of respects been ‘misleading and untrue’.” Mr Stephenson told The London Evening Post that Mr Mengi’s lawsuit cost could go as far as £2million). Efforts to locate Mr Mengi for comment on Friday were in vain.