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13 Apr 2008 07:50
A Briton accused of masterminding a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea is being held illegally and has been denied access to his lawyer since he was charged in February, a defence attorney said on Saturday.
British mercenary Simon Mann, a former officer of Britain’s SAS special forces regiment, was secretly deported to the West African state of Equatorial Guinea on January 31 from Zimbabwe, even though still appealing extradition.
“The current detention of Simon Mann is illegal in law,” said local attorney Ponciano Mbomio Nvo, assigned to Mann’s defence, claiming he had not even been given access to the file on the accused.
Mann (55) was arrested with 61 others when their plane landed at Harare in 2004, accused of stopping off for weapons from Harare while en route to Malabo allegedly to oust the leadership of Equatorial Guinea.
Mann claimed the group was en route to the Democratic Republic of Congo and needed the weapons for a security contract at a mine.
He was sentenced to seven years in jail in Zimbabwe, but the term was reduced.
“Ever since I was asked to take the case on February 25, I have not ever had the slightest contact with Simon Mann,” said Mbomio, the lawyer. “They won’t let me see him or talk to him.”
At this stage in proceedings, Mann “should not be in police detention”, he said.
“He ought to have already been interviewed by an examining magistrate, but the magistrate told me he had not yet even received the file.
“I applied to the magistrate dealing with the case, but he told me he did not know what to do about my application because the file on Mann had not yet been submitted to him.
The authorities here have repeatedly said the trial will be held at an early date.
Last month, Equatorial Guinea issued an international arrest warrant for Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, accusing him of being an instigator of the abortive coup plot.
Thatcher (54) pleaded guilty in South Africa in 2005 to violating anti-mercenary laws in that country, saying he had unwittingly helped plotters against Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
He paid a R3-million fine and was given a four-year suspended prison sentence.
Equatorial Guinea alleges that Thatcher helped fund a group of mostly British-based businessmen who sought to overthrow Obiang’s regime on behalf of an opposition leader who would give them access to Africa’s third-largest oil reserves.
Thatcher has denied any knowledge of a coup plot but acknowledged knowing some of the alleged plotters, including Mann.
“It was a big surprise when I learned that the state attorney had issued a new international arrest warrant for Mark Thatcher,” Mann’s lawyer said. “If Simon Mann’s extradition from Zimbabwe took four years and cost Equatorial Guinea a lot of money, I imagine this one could take even longer, especially as they don’t know where he is.”
International rights bodies say that Obiang Nguema’s Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea oversees a highly oppressive and corrupt regime with a catalogue of human rights abuses and embezzlement of the country’s growing oil wealth.
Obiang appointed a new government in 2006, which he said would end ignorance, corruption and incompetence by its predecessors. However, with the exception of Prime Minister Ricardo Mangue Obama Nfubea, the Cabinet remained largely unchanged.—Sapa-AFP
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