The Foreign Investor nightmare in Mauritius

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2005 was the year I fell in love with Mauritius. Turquoise water in combination with friendly people had me under the paradise spell. The dream vacation!

Some time later, I was playing golf in South Africa when a friend approached me with the perfect investment possibility. Villas in Mauritius - wow! My head started spinning like a carousel filled with ideas and excitement about the future. - This is going to be great!

So great in fact that me and friends wanted to buy close to 20 of the villas my golf-partner showed me. In the end that did not work out. However, in 2006, I bought a dream villa in the stunning Tamarina Golf & Beach Resort. 

Anyone who has visited the south-west part of Mauritius knows what a beautiful place it is. All I could see was potential! I was thinking that Mauritius could easily become so much more than it already was. It could be turned into the hot spot for the discerning travellers and choosy people looking for a second or even third home abroad. How lucky I was to have discovered this amazing place and I genuinely wanted to take part in developing Mauritius along those lines.

So, not long after I moved into the villa at Tamarina in 2008, I was frequently approached by two professionals, one in tourism and the other in real estate operating under a famous franchise.  They insisted it was a fantastic idea to purchase land in Mauritius and develop a project similar to Tamarina. After many meetings set up by them during my visits to the island during which they were pushing me, they had me thinking that it was a good idea and that I should buy a particular portion of land owned by a businessman. I wish I could name and shame them, but the matter being in court – you will soon understand why – I came to understand that I am not allowed to speak of the matter as this may tantamount to a contempt of court. So to get back to my story, finally, in 2010, I invested almost Rs 70 million in deposit on 40 acres of land for a major touristic project. The design was made, architects from Europe were on it, and it was going to be a jewel. But geotechnical experts later found out that I would not be able to build a single square-meter structure on this land. The slope was too acute. In fact, people were trying to sell me 40 acres of mountains! I felt tricked by the two “professionals” who convinced that it was an opportunity. They used the fact that I was a foreigner and that I trusted them against me. They defrauded me of almost 70 million rupees in deposit since it was not possible to realise the planned project on the land in question and the deposit is non-refundable. I decided to both sue and report them to the police for fraud in 2013, but I never got any help from the police and still, after more than five years, nothing has happened. Regarding all of the different teams of lawyers I engaged, they all asked for huge up-front retainers. Once they received the retainers from me, I found out that they were more or less biased in favour of the rich businessman from whom I was supposed to purchase the land. They just took my money and did nothing. Luckily, I finally have a great team of lawyers now, but it was not easy to find them. Concerning the biased lawyers, I complained to the Mauritius Bar Association and they were not of much help. I have my theory for this deceitful outcome. Again, I have been advised not to quote names. All I can say, is that Mauritius is a small country, with a small population, with an even smaller number of lawyers. The probability of retaining a lawyer who has once dealt with the adverse party is relatively high. 

During the same time period, I ordered a guest house to be built on my property at Tamarina Golf Estate Villa 62. It was a turn-key project. I got a quote from the builder at more than Rs 4m and paid for the works as per the quote. Later on, I learnt that this was heavily over-priced. At the handover there were many snags to deal with and the builder also wanted to charge approx. Rs 100,000 extra for tree cutting and the supply of power to the guest house. This additional billing was never agreed to by me since this work was integral to the construction of the guest house and therefore part of the original works. Finally, it was agreed with the builder's father at the inspection (Jan/Feb 2011) that a final payment of MUR 200,000 would settle the outstanding balance for all the work and equipment ordered.

Nevertheless, in Feb 2012 the builder served a Mise-en-Demeure on me and demanded payment for the Rs 100,000 extra for tree cutting and the supply of power to the guest house. I, on the other hand filed a counterclaim, exceeding the builder’s claim, regarding various missing or faulty matters, only to find out in court that I had filed my claim too late. At the time I found this shocking and crazy considering that there is a 10 year warranty on construction, but later I realised that this is just the way how foreing investors are treated, and. guess the builder was hoping that I as a foreigner would just pay. Apparently, I was not the first one the builder had done this to. The matter went to court many years later and I lost. But I have filed an appeal and the case is still going on today.

Nonetheless, my visions and positive feelings for this paradise island were still very much alive and I decided on finding a new path of creating opportunities on the island. A few crooks were not going to drag the whole country in the mud. Instead, in 2011, I began promoting a 69MW offshore floating wind power platform. The interest in Mauritius was serious and discussions with government representatives and the Central Electricity Board (CEB) were very positive. I was thrilled to finally be able to make a difference for Mauritius and its people with a progressive project. Upon the insistence of a Vice Prime Minister, I put all of my recourses into the project.

When the time came to formalise plans for the project in order to start inviting my investors, the government decided to cut me and my company out (without any forewarning) and deal directly with my contractors on the engineering and construction side of the project. Subsequently all the hard work carried out for more than 18 months and more than 1m euro invested by me was for nothing. Me and my colleagues felt terribly sad, angry and defeated. Had the project stayed on track, it would have been a fantastic job and business opportunity for hundreds of people during the build-up phase and it would have been a green sustainable energy alternative for the island. Instead, local corrupt business people stole my project with the intention of proceeding by themselves. They even set up a company with a name very similar to my company. However, they never succeeded with the project as they neither had the skill nor the talent to raise the + 200 million euro in funds required to turn it into reality. Consequently, the project disappeared and my investment with it.

In 2015, I made a new attempt at developing a project with excellent benefits for Mauritius and its people. - Third time is the charm, right? Why should the people of Mauritius need to suffer just because local corrupt business people saw a chance to fill their own pockets from the wind power project? This time I tried something different, again. A film studio. At a cocktail party I had met one of the heads of the film commission and he asked me to help develop a sustainable film studio business since he knew about my connections in Hollywood and my experience as executive producer for 1,500 movies.

I threw myself and my connections on the project and everyone loved it. Me and my U.S. connections developed a plan. Mauritius was going to be the Hollywood of Bollywood! The movie companies were all in and planned to move many of their productions to Mauritius. All we needed to do was build the studio and they would start straight away. But I never got the chance to build the studio. 

I had even engaged a prominent script writer to create a dramatized five season TV-Series on the history of Mauritius, but he only got to complete the first season when I had to pull the plug on it. By coincidence, and only by coincidence, one well-connected local businessman has unveiled a project which resembles mine.

I was losing faith at this point. Why would I give so much of myself and my resources to a country with politicians and local businessmen that were only looking to fill their own pockets at my expense? From seeing a place with great potential, I was beginning to see the ugly truth of what was going on behind the scenes. I felt extremely bad for Mauritius and its people. How can you plan for a future in a country where the government and the local business community work against you rather than with you? It’s an impossible task. 

Despite my bad experiences so far, and that I hated to be proven wrong about Mauritius, in 2017, I decided to try and do something for the Mauritians which was not on such a large scale to begin with, and which did not need government support. I was thinking that the Mauritians might not have the support of their own government, but there might still be a chance of a better future. – Again, I had to think differently. This time I reasoned that electric cars would be the future for Mauritius. It would help keeping the environment on the island green. An important issue since tourism is the main income for Mauritius and its beautiful nature and scenery is key for the tourist trade. I reasoned electric cars would fit very well into this line of thinking. But, in 2018, after having started up the electric cars business, reality struck again. MRA customs made it impossible for me to import electric cars by classifying them wrongly and thereby imposing higher excise duty and registration fees. This made the cars’ final retail price too high. They even went against the regulations set by the government to block me from competing with local established businesses importing polluting cars with cost for the consumer.

I was finally forced to realise that Mauritius is a sinking ship. The local business community and the government does not just work against its own people, but against the future of Mauritius’ economy. I had to admit defeat. I moved.

Since moving from Mauritius, I have understood that my story is only one of many. Apparently countless foreign investors in Mauritius are having to suffer through the same painful and expensive experiences as myself. Consequently, my view on the island and what I believed to be a welcoming attitude towards foreign investors has changed. I no longer seek to create opportunities for Mauritius, instead I am warning foreign investors of Mauritius’ attitude towards us.

I am sad to say it, but now Mauritius and I have one of those toxic relationships where I feel abused by a partner I used to trust and really believed in.

Berth Milton is a swedish billionnaire whose fortune started in the adult film industry, when he listed his father’s company on the Nasdaq. He is today the owner of luxury hotels and real estates across Europe. In May 2019, ViaPlay will be airing a series of documentaries on his life and businesses. A large portion of the documentary will be about his Mauritian misfortune. 

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