The Belgian investor who was last week accused of spying, tax evasion, smuggling and being an illegal immigrant by Wawi legislator Hamad Rashid Mohamed, has written an 11-page letter to Speaker of the National Assembly Anne Makinda registering his concerns over the allegations, which he termed as malicious, baseless and misleading.
The investor requested intervention by the Speaker in order to clear his name and public image following the grave allegations made last week on the floor of the National Assembly by the legislator.
Mark Rene Roelandts, who is the owner of the Mwanza-based Mineral Extraction Technologies Ltd, has written through his lawyers, Mark Associates Attorneys, the eleven-page letter to the Speaker protesting the Wawi legislator’s accusations and proclaiming his innocence.
The move comes as the Belgian embassy this week confirmed to the Tanzanian authorities that the five passports named by Hamad in the House were legally issued to Roelandt during the past few years, thereby casting grave doubts on the authenticity of the grave allegations raised in the House last week and repeated on Tuesday by Nyamagana lawmaker Ezekiel Wenje.
In his letter to the Speaker, Roelandts termed the accusations ‘malicious and defamatory’ aimed at tarnishing his name both domestically and internationally.
“Our client wishes to state that all the allegations raised by the Honourable MP are inaccurate, false and totally misleading. He is neither a spy nor a tax evader as alleged. Neither is he an illegal immigrant nor a smuggler as claimed by the Honourable MP”, the letter, signed by the legal firm’s managing partner, Antony Mark, read in part.
Director of parliamentary business John Joel confirmed to this paper that the letter had reached the Speaker’s office, noting that it would be dealt with according to the set administrative procedure.
“The complaints will therefore be forwarded to the Standing Committee on Justice, Disciplinary and Parliamentary Powers,” he said.
The letter added: “As a result of the Honourable MP’s extremely damaging and defamatory statement in Parliament (a place where he has no room to defend himself), our client has suffered directly in his reputation. The Honourable MP has managed to distort public perception of our client and completely diminished his respect and esteem deserving to be accorded to him as an individual by the general public in the United Republic of Tanzania and elsewhere in the world” The letter to the Speaker also refutes claims that the investor has been avoiding paying tax and smuggling 15 kilogrammes of gold out of the country every week.
The letter said the allegations that their client and his company have been smuggling 15kilogrammes of gold every week “are outrageous and farcical to say the least.
“If Honourable Rashid had an understanding of how gold is mined, processed and measured, he would have not uttered such unbecoming and outlandish allegations (especially in Parliament). For a small company like that of our client, exporting 15 kg of gold every week is impossible by all means,” the letter said.
In his statement published as an advert last week, the Belgian investor clarified that it was impossible for him to produce 15kgs of gold every week, adding that such amount of gold could only be produced by big investors like African Barrick Gold or Anglo Gold.
Tanzania's gold production rose to 40.4 tonnes in 2011 from 35.6 tonnes in 2010, during which mining companies invested in higher output in order to cash in on the rising price of the precious metal, according to the central bank of Tanzania.
According to the report, 98 percent of the amount came from large-scale miners while the remainder was produced by small-and medium-scale miners.
Asked by The Guardian about the grave allegations against him, the Belgium investor said, “I am shocked and puzzled, but hopefully the truth will be known very soon”.
This paper contacted him following his statement which was published as an advert last week in which he strongly denied all the allegations.
“I can’t give any further details because I have already done so in writing, but I wasn’t treated fairly by the media (including your newspaper), which decided to publish the outrageous allegations without giving me the right to reply to the claims or state my side of the story,” he said.
The Guardian has also established that early this week the Belgian embassy in Dar es Salaam wrote to the police confirming that the five passports whose numbers were named by Hamad in the National Assembly were legally issued by Belgian authorities.
Although this paper didn’t see the embassy’s letter to the police, a source close to the investigation into the allegations confirmed on Thursday that the letter had indeed been received, adding that “there was no Burundian or Kenyan passports as claimed by the two legislators.”
But in his letter sent to the House Speaker, his lawyers further state that “it is untrue that our client has evaded tax to the tune of Sh6 billion. If this were to be the case our client would be able to produce approximately 2 tonnes of gold annually, which would make his company a producer of 5 percent of all the gold produced in Tanzania (source TMAA Annual Report 2011), something which defies logic and common sense and would put him at a par with one of the big gold mines operated by Barrick Gold Corporation.
“It is true that he has an ongoing dispute with the Tanzania Revenue Authority in respect of a tax assessment charged against him in 2010. He has contested the said assessment and after more than 15 months a final decision is still pending. That does not under any stretch of the imagination make him a tax evader,” the letter said.
The lawyers pointed out that it was untrue that Roelandts has been abusing Tanzanians as alleged by the MP, saying Tanzania was governed by the rule of law and had a proper legal system that functioned according to the country’s laws and regulations, thus if their client had ever abused any person he would have been prosecuted. He has never been prosecuted for such or any other offence, they said.
At the centre of the alleged mistreatment and constant harassment of Roelandts, the lawyers allege, is former Home Affairs minister Vuai Shamsi Nahodha, now minister for Defence, the commissioner of Immigration and former commissioner of Minerals Dr Dalaly Kafumu, now the legislator for Igunga.
The above three are accused of colluding with one John Lupemba, an owner of a company named MP Investment Limited, with which Roelandts had a contractual dispute dating back to 2010.
“Sometime in October 2010, he entered into a contract with MP Investment Limited, which was represented by John Lupemba, for the construction of two staff houses at Nyakato, Mwanza, and Nyarugusu camp in Geita district, at a total contract price of$110,000; that in November 2010, the plans for the said buildings were finalised, specifications agreed and finishing discussed and agreed upon with John Lupemba.
“The building period and completion date of 28/02/11 was agreed upon together with the penalties for late completion; that in December 2010, our client paid 25 percent mobilisation fee and construction started. It was agreed that a contract will be drafted but the same was never drafted or signed,” his lawyers said.
Roelandts said through his lawyers that further a $25,000 was paid in January 2011 and another $25,000 was paid to Lupemba in February 2011 for houses constructed, adding that a further $13,000 was paid in April of the same year, but the project did not come to completion.
According to the letter, on May 15, 2011 Roelandts met two people who introduced themselves as Lupemba’s father and uncle claiming that they were the directors of the company and further that Lupemba didn’t have any authority to enter into the said contract, as such the pricing he had given to Roelandts was wrong. The ‘directors’ hence demanded an additional payment of Sh102,000,000 over the one originally agreed by the parties.
Roelandts’s refusal to pay the additional money is cited as the main cause for their client’s harassment, including unlawful eviction from his residential houses in Dar es Salaam.
“Our client is free and willing to meet with any parliamentary committee which may have the power to question him and investigate the matter to its logical conclusion and be left to operate and conduct his business peacefully and without further unjustified harassment” the letter to the Speaker said.
On June 18, 2012 Hamad, when debating the government budget, accused Roelandts and his company of several malpractices, including tax evasion, being an illegal immigrant, spying and grabbing people’s land, notably in Geita region.
The MP alleged further that Roelandts’ residence permit was at one time revoked by the Home Affairs minister and wondered how the said investor continued residing in the country despite possessing five passports, three having been issued by Belgium and two by the Burundi government.
However, Roelandts denies all the claims, saying that he possess only one valid passport which was issued by the Belgian government and that the others being referred to had expired. He also denies ever possessing a passport or any travel document which was issued by the Burundi authorities.
Hamad submitted a letter dated June 18, 2012 to Speaker Anne Makinda requesting for formation of a parliamentary probe committee into the matter.
The letter accuses Roelandts of being a spy, being involved in tax evasion, land grabbing, mistreatment of residents and non-fulfillment of some promises in Geita district.
In the letter the MP wants a probe team comprising six members from three different parliamentary standing committees, which are Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security led by Edward Lowassa; Finance and Economic Affairs led by Andrew Chenge, and Energy and Minerals under Seleman Zedi.
When contacted by this paper, the MP said he was yet to get some response from the Speaker’s office, adding that he would seek an update on the matter from the Speaker.