Dubai-based energy firm, Africa Middle East Resources Investment (AMERI) Group, has sued Norwegian newspaper, VG, for $150 million as damages for “incessant defamation”.
The suit is in connection with a story carried by VG, which claimed that a power purchase deal between AMERI and the Government of Ghana, was fraught with fraud.
The paper reported that AMERI’s former CEO, Umar Farooq Zahoor, who witnessed the deal on the firm’s side, is a wanted criminal. It also said the Government of Ghana had been swindled, as far as the deal was concerned, since, it argued, that the West African country could have bought the 250-MW turbines (10) outrightly for $220 million rather than the $510 million Build Operate Own and Transfer (BOOT) deal the two parties agreed. Also the paper reported that AMERI was physically untraceable and that its website was set up just two months ago.
AMERI, in an earlier statement issued and signed by H. H. Ahmed Bin Dalmook Bin Juma Al Maktoum, member of the ruling family of Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Chairman of Ameri Group LLC, said the allegations and accusations made by Verdans Gang AS, were all false and without basis.
The Group, which feels its reputation has been tarnished by the publication, which enjoyed wide replication in Ghana’s local media scene, said in its suit that in addition to the payment of damages, VG must withdraw its defamatory campaign and publicly apologise in print and online. The energy firm is represented by Pakistani lawyers, Muhammad Umer Riaz Law Associates. They issued the defamation suit on Saturday December 19, 2015 with service directed at the Chief Editor of the newspaper.
Read the full suit below:
LEGAL NOTICE FOR A DEFAMATORY CAMPAIGN AGAINST AMERI GROUP
1. We act for and on behalf of Africa Middle East Resources Investment Group (AMERI Group) — hereinafter referred to as “our Client”, who has instructed us to serve upon you this legal notice for commencing an incessant and relentless defamatory campaign against a fair and transparent business deal between our Client and the Government of Ghana for the procurement, installation and operation of ten gas turbines on Build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) basis.
2. At the outset, it is brought to your knowledge that out Client is a diversified privately held group of companies with businesses in different countries across the globe, including Norway, UAE and Pakistan. The Group is active in the fields of Energy, Infrastructure, construction and trade; and has partnerships and associations to help execute its business efficiently and successfully.
3. Our Client, at its core, is a developer, investor, co-owner and operator of power plants, energy and infrastructure projects in different parts of the world. Its expertise in the energy space includes power generation from gas, coal, renewables to Oil & Gas; and is active at all stages of the energy value chain. Further, our Client, through its subsidiaries, works closely with its partners to deliver the innovative and most reliable energy solutions efficiently, within budget, and on time.
4. Most of all, Our Client’s business dealings are based on trust, integrity, and transparency; and it commits to its word, and delivers what its promises. Timing is the essence of its dealings. Good governance and due diligence are the hallmarks of our Client.
5. The group is headed by His Royal Highness Shaikh Ahmed Bin Dalmook Al Maktoum, a member of the ruling family of UAE and he also enjoys diplomatic status of his country; and includes a highly professional team of executives with tremendous market experience and business skills from all across the world, including an Former Ambassador At Large for the Government of Pakistan, Dr. Nasir Ali Khan; and Former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, who is rendering services as consultant to the group.
6. That notwithstanding the afore-mentioned and the excellent business reputation of our Client, you have, in a series of articles published in your tabloid newspaper and also available on your website, accused our Client of the following regarding the afore-mentioned contract dated 10th Feb, 2015:-
a. Mr. Umar Farooq from Oslo, who allegedly is wanted for fraud in Norway, had signed an agreement with Government of Ghana.
b. That the acquisition/outright purchase of ten gas turbines would usually sell for 220 million dollars; whereas, our Client has been paid 510 million dollars. Similar deal by METKA of Greece and Government of Ghana costed about 350 million US dollars; in another deal where General Electric sold eight identical turbines to the state Energy company in Algeria, for 161 million US dollars, at the rate of 20 million US dollars;
c. Why weren’t the manufacturers of these plants, General Electric, contacted to negotiate a direct purchase?
d. That this deal was done quickly and out of public view to benefit the selected few.
e. Our Client has apparently achieved spectacular success in a very short period of time; and the website of our Client (www.amerigroup.ae) was created two months before the multi-million dollar contract was signed with Government of Ghana.
f. That four months after our Client made the deal with Ghana, the company is still not listed on the list of tenants in the office building of Dubai; and that employees in other business in the same building have never heard about the company
7. It is emphatically and forcefully stated herein that none of the afore-mentioned allegations are even remotely correct, or even close to reality existing on the ground and to the contrary are put to the strict proof thereto. It is indeed ironical and inexplicable that why your tabloid newspaper would be interested in a deal struck thousands of miles away from Norway; and in which the State or people of Norway would have no interest whatsoever, either economically, financially or socially.
8. A bare perusal of these slanderous and poorly authored articles from tabloid newspaper and your website goes on to show that the management of your newspaper has some old scores to settle with the ex-CEO of our Client, Mr. Umar Farooq; and our Client has just been caught in the act. In this regard, your articles on the one hand state that the instant contract related to acquisition/outright purchase of ten gas turbines; and on the other hand admit that it is based on Build, Own, Operate, Transfer (BOOT). This contradiction can never be reconciled, even by a person having a text-book knowledge of BOOT projects and the projects of outright purchase/supply of equipment; and thus leaves a lot to be desired and indicates that there is more from your side than meets the eye.
9. It is brought into your knowledge that BOOT is a form of project financing, wherein a private entity receives a concession from the private or public sector to finance, design, construct, and operate a facility stated in the concession contract. This enables the project proponent to recover its investment, operating and maintenance expenses in the project over the Contract period. Such projects provide for the infrastructure to be transferred to the government at the end of the concession period.
10. The instant deal, it is emphatically stated, is not an outright purchase of these gas turbines; but is a BOOT deal. The recital of this agreement, in this regard, stipulates that “AMERI Group has agreed to install 10 new GE TM 2500 aero derivative gas turbines, (and to) operate, maintain, and transfer (the) same in good and operable condition and provide the support services on the terms, and subject to the conditions, set forth in this agreement.
” The Clause 7(a) of the agreement further states that “The transactions contemplated by this agreement constitute a build, own, operate and Transfer of the AMERI ENGERY Equipment by AMERI ENGERY to the GoG”. Similarly, the Clause 8, while stipulating our Client’s obligations under the agreement, states that its obligations, inter alia, would include to “deliver, install, and commission the EMERI ENGERY Equipment…… “operate, maintain and repair the AMERI ENGERY Equipment ……” etc.
11. In consideration of the installation, operation and maintenance of the equipment and provision of services thereof, the Government of Ghana would be obliged to make payments to our Client on monthly basis, inter alia, for the power produced and supplied, as per the Clause 10 of the agreement, at the rates stipulated therein. Further, after the contract term of five years, the plants in operating conditions would be transferred to the Government of Ghana.
12. What this means is that our Client, after acquiring these plants from the manufacturer would install and operate these plants to produce and supply the electricity in consideration of monthly payments, just like any other Independent Power Producer; where after, the ownership of these plants would be transferred to the Government of Ghana after five years.
13. Therefore, it must be explained that the quoted price of 220 million US Dollars in your articles for outright purchase of similar turbines does not include all other costs in a BOOT deal, i.e., auxiliaries, balance of plant, civil works, sub-station, installation of equipment, cost of financing, operation and maintenance etc. Our Client, under the agreement, is also bearing the cost of all the above operations, apart from the outright purchase of the turbines – which is the essence of BOOT projects, as explained above; and thus the total price of 510 million US Dollars. The Government of Ghana is on record on this score.
14. The above would also establish that no payment, as yet, has been made to our Client for the cost of the ten gas turbines; neither will be any payment made in this regard during the term of the agreement.
15. Furthermore, as far as the allegation that the manufacturer of these plants, General Electric, was not directly contacted for the acquisition of these plants, suffice is to state that a similar BOOT deal with General Electric, as per the statement of the Government of Ghana, was far too expensive; and therefore rejected.
16. It is stated that our Client procured the said contract through a fair, transparent and an above-board process, which has been duly vetted by the concerned officials of Government of Ghana, before being ratified by their Parliament. Further, the Bank of Ghana, which opened a L/C on behalf of the Government of Ghana in pursuance of the Clause 5 of the Agreement, conducted its own due diligence on our Client’s credibility and ability to fulfill its contractual promises. In the same vein, an American firm, JP Morgan also independently conducted its own due diligence before confirming the standby LC for the project. Therefore, all allegations of haste, non-transparency and secrecy are hereby rejected; and you are put to strict proof thereof by the contents of this legal notice.
17. As far as the allegation that an alleged fraudster negotiated and concluded the said deal, it is important to bring on record that Mr. Umar Farooq has been involved with our Client as its CEO till August, 2015; and has never been involved in any scam or fraud, for our Client conducts its own due diligence and scrutiny before hiring or retaining anyone in its board and team. Further, Mr. Farooq, as is apparent from the perusal of the last page of the agreement, only signed the agreement as a witness, whereas His Highness signed the deal on behalf of our Client. Therefore, the Government of Ghana has an agreement with our Client and not with anyone else, including Mr. Farooq.
18. Similarly, the allegations about the making of the website and absence of the name of our Client from the name boards in the building where our Client is situated are nothing but figments of your fertile imagination. The entire building is in the ownership of His Royal Highness and his family and any contention contrary thereto is denied. The success of our Client in a short span of time has attracted many an allegation from all and sundry.
However, it is now crystal clear that you are working at the behest of someone to achieve some ulterior motives with criminal intent; for which you have resorted to highly objectionable and unethical journalism – journalism which reeks of nothing but malice, corruption, exploitation and venality and yellow journalism at its best.
The mere fact of translated version of articles from Norwegian to English language made available on website of tabloid newspaper proves nothing but malicious intent to defame reputation of our client all across the globe as the translation from Norwegian to English language of articles in rare phenomenon in Norway.
19. That the slanderous articles published and available on your website have caused colossal damage to our Client financially, socially as well as professionally, along with bringing wanton inconvenience to him and his acquaintances across the globe, especially in Pakistan, where our Client has a considerable presence – not only in terms of business; but atleast two members of our team, as mentioned above, also hail from Pakistan.
20. By this legal notice you are urged:
a. to withdraw your defamatory campaign against our Client; and publish a public apology in the front page of your newspaper and website;
b. to pay our Client 50 Million US dollars/- within 15 days, as costs suffered by it to initiate the legal proceedings against your company. And
c. to pay our Client 100 Million US Dollars within 15 days, as the monetary value of the damages, including loss of business and reputation, suffered by it.
In your default in doing so, our Client reserves the right to institute legal proceedings, both Criminal and Civil, for which you shall also be liable to pay all the costs incurred. It is also intimated that after procurement of arrest warrants/judicial decision, the name of the Chief editor and other editorial members would be placed on the Interpol’s red Alert with the assistance of Pakistan’s National Central Bureau (Federal Investigation Agency).
LEGAL NOTICE IS BEING SERVED UPON YOU ON BEHALF OF OUR CLIENT WITHOUT PREJUDICE TO ANY CLAIMS, RIGHTS AND REMEDIES WHICH ARE LAWFULLY AVAILABLE TO OUR CLIENT IN A COURT OF LAW.
However, before we advise our Client on the legal options available in this respect and the specific steps which are to be taken, it would be in order if you remedy the breach and minimize the damages, which are claimed by our Client for the loss personal and business reputation, within fifteen days of the receipt of this legal notice, failing which we shall document the claim and advise our Client accordingly.
We further reserve the right to include other heads of damages and claim any remedies, which may be available under the law in the best interests of our Client.
MUHAMMAD UMER RIAZ
Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan
Barrister-At-Law JUSTICE (R ) M BILAL KHAN
Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistani
Ex-Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court
Advocate High Court
HAROON RASHEED MIR
Advocate High Court