In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

British elite snared in Africa coup trial

Posted by seumasach on June 18, 2008

There is no doubt bigger players were involved and not just in the British elite: Spain sent a naval taskforce to support the coup

Ventura County Star By Lydia Polgreen New York Times News Service Wednesday, June 18, 2008 DAKAR, Senegal — The plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea in 2004 was so improbable, it sounded like something out of a tale from the tropics, too outlandish even for Graham Greene. It was, as outlined in a series of court cases and breathless news articles, a steamy stew of British upper-crusters concocting a scheme on behalf of a reclusive financier to use private mercenaries to overthrow the dictator of a tiny, mineral-rich African nation for fun and profit — or, in the conspirators’ argot, “a large splodge of wonga.” But as the trial of one of the accused men, Simon Mann, an old Etonian and veteran of Britain’s elite Special Air Service, got under way Tuesday in Equatorial Guinea in West Africa, fact has proved as strange as fiction, if not stranger. Indeed, the events alleged by officials in Equatorial Guinea loosely mirror those of the plot of Frederick Forsyth’s 1974 book, “The Dogs of War,” and a subsequent film version starring Christopher Walken, in which a group of European mercenaries tries to overthrow the president of a fictional country called Zangaro at the behest of a rich investor. Mann was arrested in 2004 in Zimbabwe, along with 70 other would-be mercenaries when their plane stopped in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, to pick up weapons on the way to Equatorial Guinea, a notoriously repressive nation ruled for nearly three decades by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the target of the alleged coup attempt. Obiang himself seized power in 1979 in a coup backed by Moroccan soldiers. Equatorial Guinea has just a half-million residents, but it is one of Africa’s top oil producers. Mann served three years in prison in Zimbabwe after being convicted of an arms violation but was then rearrested and extradited to Equatorial Guinea, which ordered that he be brought to trial. Since early February he has been living in the notorious Black Beach prison in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea’s capital. Mann faces coup-plotting charges that could carry the death penalty, but when the trial opened, the prosecution said it would seek a 32-year prison term, according to news reports from Malabo. Several plotters have already been convicted and are serving sentences ranging from 14 to 34 years. Mann had tried to prevent his extradition, arguing that he would not get a fair trial in Equatorial Guinea. The case ultimately ensnared a motley cast of upper-class Britons, including Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was arrested by the South African police for helping finance the plot and pleaded guilty to avoid jail time, though he insisted that he was an unwitting participant. At Tuesday’s hearing, the state public prosecutor, Jose Olo Obono, identified Thatcher as one of the organizers of the abortive conspiracy, Reuters reported. It also quoted a defense lawyer, Jose Pablo Nuo, as saying that Mann was a “mere instrument” of those who planned it. Mann, the scion of a brewery fortune, in many ways epitomizes a now largely bygone era in Africa, when European soldiers of fortune, for the right price, helped dictators stay in power, or, if the price was better, helped a dictator in waiting grab hold of the reins. Mann was a founder of the two private security companies that became inextricably linked with some of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars, Sand-line and Executive Outcomes. Such is the fascination the trial exerts in Britain that several British journalists have flown in to Malabo to cover the trial.

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