THE involvement of the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) in the controversial Meremeta Limited formally ceased in 2005/06 after the joint venture company between the government and South African investors was officially dissolved, impeccable sources have revealed to THISDAY.
Insiders familiar with the whole saga say that, contrary to Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda’s claims in the National Assembly last week that the now-defunct company was a classified military project, the army was never involved in subsequent deals involving TANGOLD and Deep Green Finance.
According to these sources, Meremeta Ltd was initially registered in the Isle of Man, United Kingdom in April 1997, and received certificate of registration number 3424504.
Going by official government records, Meremeta was registered as a 50-50 joint venture project between the Tanzanian government and Triennex (PTY) Limited of South Africa.
However, other strong evidence indicates the presence in Meremeta’s affairs from the outset of at least two British legal firms, London Law Services Ltd and London Law Secretarial Ltd, both described as ’nominal shareholders.’
In October 1997, the company was given certificate of compliance number 32755 by the Business Registration Licensing Authority (BRELA), allowing it to formally operate in Tanzania.
Working in collaboration with the TPDF at the Buhemba open pit gold mine in Mara Region, Meremeta officially began gold mining operations in February 2003, with its operations being heavily financed by Tanzanian taxpayers through the Bank of Tanzania (BoT).
In 2005, the Meremeta company announced it had produced 2,075 kilogrammes of gold at a cash cost of $384 per troy ounce of gold.
Apart from the Buhemba gold mine, Meremeta also held the Kilamongo and Mwizi deposits, both located south of Buhemba, and the Nyasanero deposit.
But then in 2006 – only a year after officially beginning gold production the company declared bankruptcy, and was formally dissolved.
’’With the dissolution of Meremeta, both the TPDF and the South African company (Triennex) formally pulled out of gold mining activities at Buhemba,’’ said one of our well-informed sources, adding: ’’So officially, any military involvement in the Meremeta project ended in 2006 when the company was declared bankrupt.’’
Insiders further say the initial involvement of the TPDF in the Buhemba gold mining operations was aimed at raising funds to finance its cash-strapped vehicle manufacturing division – Tanzania Automotive Technology Centre, better known as the Nyumbu project.
It is understood that Meremeta was also set up to assist in developing the country’s informal gold mining sector.
Official government records show that as Meremeta Ltd was winding up its operations, the BoT paid more than $118m (approx. 150bn/-) to Nedcor Trade Services Limited after having guaranteed a loan from the South African firm to Meremeta.
The BoT raised the funds to pay off the loan to Meremeta through a controversial 155bn/- Treasury bond, in a transaction that raised serious queries from auditors.
Following the liquidation of Meremeta Ltd, the Ministry of Energy and Minerals announced in Parliament that a wholly-owned government company, TANGOLD Limited, had been formed and assumed all Meremeta company assets, including the Buhemba gold mine.
Investigations by THISDAY have already established that the BoT paid another $13.34m (approx. 17bn/-) to TANGOLD through an account at the National Bank of Commerce Limited’s Corporate Branch in Dar es Salaam.
TANGOLD was initially registered as an offshore company in Mauritius in April 2005, with its address listed as Suite 520, Barkly Whart, Le Caudan Waterfront, Port Louis.
In February 2006, the company was registered in Tanzania, with its local shareholders including former BoT governor Daudi Ballali (now deceased); the then Minister for Infrastructure Development, Andrew Chenge; and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Gray Mgonja.
Other TANGOLD shareholders are the current PS in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Patrick Rutabanzibwa; and the then permanent secretary in the Ministry of Livestock Development, Vincent Mrisho.
Although the Ministry of Energy and Minerals claimed that TANGOLD was 100% owned by the government, it has failed to explain why the company was registered in Mauritius and not Tanzania, and why its articles of association give the listed shareholders permission to transfer all or part of their shares to their next of kin.
TANGOLD is also not listed at the Treasury Registry among companies partly or wholly-owned by the government, and has thus not been subjected to statutory auditing by the Controller and Auditor General (CAG).
When addressing the National Assembly in Dodoma last Friday, premier Pinda appeared evasive to the point of fumbling in his attempts to answer queries from opposition members of parliament regarding Meremeta, TANGOLD and Deep Green Finance Limited.
His reference to the controversial Meremeta question as a ’’military affair and therefore one of national security’’ in particular only served to raise more questions rather than provide any answers to the mystery.