Monday, July 07, 2008

Former British Soldier Sentenced in Coup Plot Against Equatorial Guinea Government

Mann sentenced for E Guinea plot

Former British soldier Simon Mann has been sentenced to 34 years and four months in jail by an Equatorial Guinea court for his role in a 2004 coup plot.

The verdict followed Mann's trial in the capital Malabo last month in which he admitted conspiring to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The former special forces officer, 56, had expressed remorse, saying he was not the most senior coup plotter.

Mann was held in 2004 with 64 others in Zimbabwe before being extradited.

He served four years in a prison in Zimbabwe for trying to purchase weapons without a licence.

Eleven other men, including South African arms dealer Nick Du Toit - who testified that he had been recruited by Mann - are already serving sentences in Equatorial Guinea in connection with the coup attempt.

Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich former Spanish colony, has been ruled by President Obiang since he seized power from his uncle in 1979.

Pardon hint

Mann, wearing a grey prison uniform, stood impassively as the verdict was read out by presiding judge Carlos Mangue in the heavily-guarded courtroom in Malabo, according to Reuters news agency.

During the trial, prosecutors had asked for about 31 years in prison - but in the end a three-judge panel gave him an even longer sentence.

Mann's lawyer had asked for leniency, saying his client was a pawn of powerful international businessmen and saying he had been "not a co-author" of the coup plot but "an accomplice".

President Obiang has not ruled out the possibility of Mann serving part of his sentence in a British jail, says the BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross.

He adds that the best hope of freedom for the Eton-educated former soldier is a presidential pardon.


Mann has implicated Sir Mark Thatcher, son of UK former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and London-based millionaire Eli Calil as organisers of the plot.

Sir Mark was fined and received a suspended sentence in South Africa in 2005 for unknowingly helping to finance the plot. He strongly denies any direct involvement. Mr Calil also denies involvement.

Du Toit has said that he was told they were trying to install an exiled opposition politician, Severo Moto, as president.

Mr Moto, who is currently in Spain, has denied involvement in the failed coup.

During the trial, Mann also said South Africa and Spain had both given "the green light" for the plot.

Spain later denied any involvement while South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs said the charge was "as preposterous at it is laughable".

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/07/07 18:13:56 GMT

Profile: Simon Mann

Simon Mann, a former British commando, businessman, and one-time actor, has been jailed for more than 34 years for leading an attempt to oust Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Sixty-six other suspected mercenaries were arrested with Mann when their plane was impounded in the capital, Harare, in March 2004.

His lawyers claimed they had been on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help secure diamond mines.

The 56-year-old was jailed in Zimbabwe on arms charges the same year. He was released for good behaviour in May 2007 - and promptly rearrested.

In February 2008, he was extradited to oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, which has a poor human rights record.

A month later, he confessed to involvement in the coup plot. Speaking to Channel 4 News from the notorious Black Beach prison in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Mann said he had been the "manager, not the architect" of the plot.

Adventurer heir

Born into privilege, Mann was swept up by the pursuit of adventure.

As befits the son of an England cricket captain and the heir to a brewing fortune, he studied at Eton, the exclusive private school favoured by princes and the political elite.

Eton was followed by Sandhurst, the prestigious military academy, and from there it was a natural progression to the Scots Guards, an army regiment associated with royalty and the upper class of British society.

Mann then joined the SAS, the army's special-forces unit, rising swiftly through the ranks to become a commander.

After reportedly serving in Cyprus, Germany, central America and Northern Ireland, he left the military in 1981, returning to its ranks only briefly 10 years later to work for Britain's Gulf War commander, Gen Peter de la Billiere.

Arms and advice

During the 1980s, Mann sold computer security equipment and ran a business providing bodyguards to wealthy clients.

In the early 1990s, he set up Executive Outcomes, a security consultancy, with his associate Tony Buckingham.

Executive Outcomes developed a formidable reputation delivering advice - and armed guards - to protect businesses operating in conflict zones.

The company earned millions from Angola's government by guarding oil installations against rebel attacks.

In the mid-1990s, Mann entered a partnership with fellow former Scots Guardsman, Tim Spicer.

They established another private security firm, Sandline International, which was soon being linked to the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Its role in the conflict remains open to speculation.

The firm is believed to have delivered "logistical support", including guns, to the country while it was under a UN arms embargo.

According to Michael Gove of the Times newspaper, mercenaries working for Mann helped defeat the rebels led by Foday Sankoh and paved the way for "democratic rule".

'Dirty work'

Those who have known Simon Mann describe him as poker-faced, mysterious and secretive.

Yet he emerged into the limelight in 2002 to play a British officer in a film about the Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland.

The film's director, Paul Greengrass, spoke of him as a "humane man, but an adventurer... very English, a romantic, tremendously good company".

Mr Gove argues that Mann's private security firms "have been scrupulous about operating in concert with Western policy goals while maintaining a discreet distance".

The Zimbabwean authorities had accused Western intelligence agencies of sending the men to do their dirty work.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/07/07 17:15:39 GMT

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