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18 Jun 2008 17:43
British mercenary Simon Mann testified in court on Wednesday that former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, was a core member of a plot to topple Equatorial Guinea’s president.
Mann (55), speaking through a Spanish interpreter on the second day of his trial in the Equatorial Guinea capital, Malabo, said Mark Thatcher’s role went beyond raising financing for the failed 2004 bid to oust the oil-rich African country’s iron-fisted ruler, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
Thatcher was an integral part of the group that planned the coup, Mann said.
Mann said he came in touch with Thatcher when they were neighbours in Cape Town in South Africa.
Speaking calmly, with his hands clasped behind his back, Mann said a preliminary meeting with the coup’s alleged mastermind, London-based millionaire Ely Calil, and others involved revealed that Thatcher and Calil knew each other.
He said the coup was aimed at installing Severo Moto, a political opponent of Obiang who has been sentenced in absentia to several years in jail, as president.
Mann said Thatcher had been in contact with Moto to transport him to the Spanish Canary Islands off West Africa’s coast and then on to Mali to await his return to power in the oil-rich former Spanish colony.
He said Thatcher agreed to pay for Moto’s travel costs.
Thatcher pleaded guilty in 2005 to breaking the anti-mercenary laws of South Africa, where he lived at the time, but avoided prison with a suspended four-year sentence and a R3-million fine.
Equatorial Guinea has already issued an international arrest warrant for Thatcher, who left South Africa for the United States.
Mann—who faces a 30-year jail term if convicted—was arrested in 2004 at Harare’s international airport with 61 alleged accomplices when their plane touched down en route to Equatorial Guinea.
Zimbabwean authorities accused them of trying to pick up arms before launching their coup attempt. But Mann had then claimed the group was on its way to provide security to private mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In the 1990s, Mann had set up a security consultancy called Executive Outcomes to protect businesses in conflict zones and allegedly earned millions from Angola to guard oil installations against rebel attacks.
He also set up another private security firm, Sandline International, which was soon being linked to a 10-year civil war in the West African country of Sierra Leone, one of the most brutal conflicts in modern history.
In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News from his prison cell in Malabo, Mann acknowledged having been involved in the coup plot but said that he had not been the mastermind.
He accused Spain and South Africa, and named Calil as having been involved.
Mann told the court he had been well treated during his four-year prison stint in Zimbabwe but said he did not agree with prosecutors’ demands that he be given a 30-year jail term.
The charge was potentially a capital one, but Attorney General Jose Olo Obono said waiving the death penalty had been a pre-condition of Mann’s extradition from Zimbabwe earlier this year.
Obiang has been in power in Equatorial Guinea since he overthrew his own uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, in 1979.
Under his iron rule the country became one of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil producers but few have benefitted from the petrol boom.
Human rights groups say Obiang is one of the worst abusers of rights in Africa.—Sapa-AFP
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