Mann's million-dollar promise

The prosecutor in the case of South African alleged mercenary leader Nick du Toit, who has admitted a limited role in a coup bid in Equatorial Guinea, called Monday for him to be sentenced to death.

Du Toit told the court in Malabo that he had taken charge of logistics for an attempted putsch.

The admission came on the first day of his trial in the capital of the small central African state with 17 other alleged putschists, who have been charged with plotting to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

“I wasn’t part of the operational group because my task was logistics, that’s to say getting vehicles” to the airport, Du Toit, who runs a number of businesses in the country, said when he was returned to the courtroom on his own after an adjournment.

Questioned by Attorney General Jose Olo Obono, the South African said he had accepted the job at the request of Simon Mann, the alleged leader of 70 other suspected mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe.

He said Mann had promised him a million dollars and the right to pursue his business activities.

The mercenaries held in Zimbabwe were allegedly due to join others in Equatorial Guinea to carry out the coup against the man who has run the country with his family and close aides since 1979.

Du Toit, who served with the South African special forces in the apartheid era, was evasive when questioned about his exact role, in particular whether he was involved in the planned attack on a police barracks.

“It was more than six months ago,” he said. “I don’t remember any more but I think so.”

He said his co-accused were not aware of what was being planned and that he had just asked them to meet people at the airport.

The state prosecutor announced that besides the death penalty for Du Toit he wanted prison terms ranging from 26 years to 86 years for the South African’s co-defendants.

Du Toit appeared along with seven other South Africans, six Armenians and four Equatorial Guineans, including former deputy economic planning minister Antonio Javier Nguema Nchama, on charges ranging from “crimes against the head of state” to treason and terrorism.

Du Toit implicated exiled opposition leader Severo Moto, head of a “government in exile” in Madrid and accused of masterminding the coup attempt.

“I was told he was in a country very nearby… and that he would be there 30 minutes after the coup.”

Three days after his arrest du Toit “confessed” on television that Moto had told him to kidnap Obiang.

Obono cited the names of Moto, accused of masterminding the coup, and British businessmen Elie Khalil, Greg Wales and David Hurt, alleged paymasters of the would-be putschists, but did not say what sentences they faced if found guilty.

Spain refused to extradite Moto, leading Malabo to recall its ambassador to Madrid in July and threaten to break off diplomatic relations. The envoy returned to his post on August 14 after a Spanish parliamentary delegation visited Malabo.

Du Toit’s lawyer, Fernando Mico, called for a seven-year prison term for his client, saying: “There was no conspiracy given that no weapons were found in their possession.”

Lawyer Polciano Mbomio, pleading on behalf of the six Armenian defendants, asked for charges against them to be dropped, and called Obono’s summary “narrative fiction.”

All 18 suspects are charged with “crimes against the head of state, against the form of government… crimes which compromise peace and independence of the state, treason, illegal possession of arms and ammunition, terrorism and possessing explosives.”

Handcuffed and in leg-irons, the accused were brought by military vehicles to the international conference hall in Banapa, a suburb of Malabo, which has been transformed into a makeshift courtroom for the trial.

The South African and Armenian suspects have been held at Malabo’s notorious Black Beach prison since March.
Their arrests coincided almost to the day with that of the alleged mercenaries detained at Harare airport following a tip-off from the South African government.

Family members of the men held in Equatorial Guinea say the suspects have been tortured.

Fifteen foreign suspects were arrested on March 6 in Malabo, but one, German Eugen Nershz, died on March 17, with the Equato-Guinean authorities saying the cause of death was cerebral malaria.

But Amnesty International has said Nershz “died… apparently as a result of torture”.

A verdict is expected next week, a lawyer at the court said. - Sapa-AFP

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