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12 Mar 2008 07:18
Wearing handcuffs and leg-irons in an African prison, the former SAS soldier who tried to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea in a coup d’état on Tuesday claimed the main instigator of the plot was the London-based Lebanese millionaire Ely Calil.
In his first interview since his arrest in Zimbabwe in 2004, Simon Mann also claimed that Mark Thatcher was “part of the team”. Thatcher pleaded guilty in South Africa in 2005 to helping charter a helicopter which he agreed “might be used for mercenary activity”.
Despite fears that he would be mistreated after he was secretly extradited from Zimbabwe to the Equatorial Guinea’s capital of Malabo in January, 55-year-old Mann appeared relaxed in a grey uniform as he talked to Channel 4 News in Black Beach prison.
For the first time, he admitted he was involved in the attempt to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
Calil, who counts Tory and Labour politicians among his friends, has repeatedly denied any involvement, although Mann named him in a prison confession in Zimbabwe which he later retracted. The confession was made under duress, but it was true, he said. In a statement to Channel 4 Calil said: “I have no involvement in or responsibility for the alleged coup.”
Mark Thatcher, who was fined R4Â 320Â 184 and given a four-year suspended sentence, said he had nothing to add to what was publicly known about his plea bargain.
Apparently dispelling a myth which has grown up around the botched attack, Mann said the “JH Archer” who is recorded as giving money to his company was not the disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer. The novelist’s name and that of former Labour minister Peter Mandelson, have been drawn into the extraordinary cast of characters in the tale as they both were friends of Calil. Asked if they had any involvement, he said: “They’ve got none at all. God knows where that came from.”
Mann, who faces a life sentence on charges of “terrorist conspiracy and attempts to murder the president”, said he was stupid to go ahead with the plot. He and 67 South African mercenaries were arrested at Harare airport in March 2004 as they touched down to pick up illegal arms. He was sentenced to seven years, reduced to four. Until now he has claimed that he was heading for the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect a diamond mine. “It was a fuck-up,” he said. “I blame myself for not simply saying: ‘Cut’. I was bloody stupid. I regret all that terribly. You go tiger shooting and you don’t expect the tiger to win. I have been saying how sorry I am to everybody for four years now actually.” He did claim, however, that Spain and South Africa were in favour of the plot.
The interview, recorded two weeks ago, was broadcast after Mann’s wife, Amanda, and his London lawyer won an injunction in the high court. They claimed he had been forced to talk by the prison authorities. But, according to Channel 4 the legal battle ended in dramatic fashion when Mann’s sister, Sarah Grootenhuis, flew back to the United Kingdom after seeing him in prison last week. She went to the high court to confirm he wanted the interview to be shown.
Documents leaked since the coup show that Mann was expecting to make $15-million and run the country and its oil revenues through a commercial company.
In the interview he admits “money and business reasons were a motivation”. But he went on: “The primary motivation was to help the people of Equatorial Guinea who were in a lot of trouble.”
Perhaps for the benefit of his captors—the attorney general and security minister were sitting in the room—he claimed that Calil and Severo Moto, the Equatorial Guinea politician in exile in Spain who they planned to install as the new leader, both misled him about the country. They said conditions were “diabolically bad”. Fears of frightful torture were unfounded. “I have been treated well. My accommodation is good, there’s water, there’s food and I am under no coercion.”
He did complain about his violent and secretive extradition from Zimbabwe which took place at night before his appeal process had been completed. He claims he was kidnapped. His removal was also strongly condemned by the Foreign Office. “We have serious concerns about the legality of this under domestic and international law,” a spokesperson said. It is widely believed the extradition was a political deal. After the plot was foiled, Obiang agreed to ship oil to Zimbabwe to help Robert Mugabe’s battered economy. The two men became allies.
Mann’s trial, which is likely to be brief because of his cooperation, is expected to start in the next few weeks. The Attorney General of Equatorial Guinea, General Jose Olo Obono, has said he will be given a “transparent” trial. To avoid allegations of partiality, the government promised his trial would be observed by a judge chosen by the head of the African Union, currently Tanzania’s President, Jakaya Kikwete.
Ely Calil: The Lebanese tycoon, 62, has been accused of financing the failed coup, an allegation he denies. Mann’s knickname for him was “Smelly”, as he revealed in a letter from his Zimbabwean jail in March 2004: “Our situation is not good ... They get no reply from Smelly, and Scratcher asked them to ring back after the Grand Prix was over!”
Mark Thatcher: (“Scratcher”) Met Mann when they both lived in South Africa. Five months after the aborted coup he was arrested at his Cape Town house. He struck a plea bargain and was fined R4Â 320Â 184 and given a four-year suspended sentence.
Jeffrey Archer: Four days before the coup was foiled on the Tarmac at Harare airport, a deposit of $135Â 000 was made into Mann’s Channel Islands company Logo Logistics. It came from a JH Archer. His lawyers issued a carefully worded denial.
Simon Mann: The mercenary, from an upper-class English background, ventured into African politics in the 1990s when he teamed up with the South African mercenary outfit, Executive Outcomes, to recapture drilling equipment seized by rebels in Angola. On March 7 2004 he and 69 South African mercenaries were arrested at Harare airport. Mann was sentenced to seven years, reduced to four. Last month he was extradited to Equatorial Guinea. - guardian.co.uk Â
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