Chin up, Mann tells family after 34-year jail sentence
Simon Mann, the British mercenary who attempted to organise a coup in the Central African state of Equatorial Guinea four years ago, was sentenced to 34 years in prison at a court hearing in the capital, Malabo, on Monday. The sentence was two years more than the prosecution asked for.
Mann (56), wearing a grey prison uniform, stood in silence as the sentence was read out by presiding Judge Carlos Mangue in the heavily guarded courtroom.
Another defendant, Lebanese businessman Mohamed Salaam, received a jail sentence of 18 years, while four Equatorial Guinean nationals were given terms of six years each. Another was jailed for one year and one other defendant was acquitted.
Mann was also ordered to pay a fine and compensation to the Equatorial Guinea state totalling about $24-million.
The judge said the long sentence was justified because of the “seriousness of the crimes” and the weight of evidence. Asked if he had a message for his family, Mann said: “I love you—and chin up.”
During the four-day trial the former special forces officer admitted he had tried to topple the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo with a gang of mercenaries hired in South Africa.
Diplomatic sources believe that Mann may eventually be granted clemency, perhaps using his health as an excuse. But on Monday night he was back in Black Beach prison with his legs shackled.
Having admitted his role and given the Equatorial Guinea government details of the plot, it remains to be seen whether the privileges he has enjoyed—like wine with his hotel food lunch—will be continued now that he is a convicted prisoner.
The case has been closely monitored by Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command at the request of the Equatorial Guinea government, which alleges that the plot was planned and financed principally from London. Last week the Attorney General, Jose Olo Obono, was in London to deliver a dossier of evidence of financial transactions through Mann’s Guernsey bank accounts.
The Equatorial Guinea government has issued international arrest warrants against Sir Mark Thatcher, who funded a helicopter for the coup plot, and the alleged main financier, Lebanese businessman Ely Calil, who has always strenuously denied any involvement. Calil says Mann was pressured into repeating in court allegations that had previously been extracted under torture in Zimbabwe.
A dilapidated Antonov 12 cargo plane on the tarmac of Santa Isabel airport is the only visible sign of the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea four years ago. The Antonov was supposed to be the lead vehicle in a swift assault on Malabo, which would have replaced dictator Obiang and made Mann a very rich man, thanks to the vast oil and gas fields located off the coast. It now stands as a monument to vanity, folly and greed.
As Mann now readily admits, “I should have called cut” as the plan gathered momentum in early 2004 and reports of its imminence became discreet chatter among intelligence agencies from Pretoria to Washington.
The government of Equatorial Guinea has exploited the coup plot on the international stage with relish. From Mann’s evidence, President Obiang was able to demonstrate that his country, once an international pariah for its human rights record, was now a victim of the latest colonial scramble for Africa’s resources.
Mann may have been naive in thinking that a group of 80 lightly armed men could have toppled the then-ramshackle security forces on Bioko island in the oil-laden Gulf of Guinea. He simply believed all the encouraging nods and winks and talk of an internal palace coup that his friends and co-conspirators fed him.
But, facing a bleak stretch in Black Beach prison, during his trial he deflected attention away from his own role in the coup, describing himself as a mere “manager”. He gave evidence about the alleged consortium of financiers, most prominently Sir Mark Thatcher, whom the Equatorial Guinea government is continuing to pursue. Scotland Yard has been eyeing the case for four years and has now elevated it by giving it a name—Operation Antara.
For his cooperation, and perhaps because of his troubling hernia, Mann may yet eventually find his way home to his wife, Amanda, and the child, his seventh, that he has never seen.
In Malabo, meanwhile, the black gold is having a superficial effect. The derelict city of about 100 000—a fifth of the population—is being transformed with new housing developments, office blocks and paved colonnades of shops arising next to squalid shanty areas.
Last month saw the installation of an Italian marble water fountain outside the Spanish gothic cathedral in the main square, which must have been a perplexing wonder to the 50% of people who do not have access to decent drinking water.
While Obiang and his extended family flaunt the trappings of wealth and the country boasts an astonishing rise in per capita income, the people are awarded one of the lowest levels of expenditure on education and health in the world.—