Mann sentenced for Eguatorial Guinea plot

simon_mann_3.jpgFormer British soldier Simon Mann has been sentenced to 34 years and
four months in jail by an Equatorial Guinea court for his role in a
2004 coup plot.

The
verdict followed Mann’s trial in the capital Malabo last month in which
he admitted conspiring to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The former Special Forces officer, 56, had apologised, saying he was not the most senior coup plotter.

Mann was held in 2004 with 64 others in Zimbabwe before being extradited.

His extradition came after he had served four years in prison in Zimbabwe for trying to purchase weapons without a licence.

On
Monday, the court in Malabo gave Mann’s Lebanese-born co-defendant,
Mohamed Salaam, a jail sentence of 18 years, while four Equatorial
Guinea nationals received terms of six years each.

Eleven other
men, including South African arms dealer Nick Du Toit – who testified
that he had been recruited by Mann – are already serving sentences in
Equatorial Guinea in connection with the coup attempt.

Equatorial
Guinea, an oil-rich former Spanish colony, has been ruled by President
Obiang since he seized power from his uncle in 1979.

Pardon hint

Mann,
wearing a grey prison uniform, stood impassively as the verdict was
read out by presiding judge Carlos Mangue in the heavily-guarded
courtroom in Malabo, according to Reuters news agency.

During
the trial, prosecutors had asked for about 31 years in prison – but in
the end a three-judge panel gave him an even longer sentence.

Mann’s
lawyer had asked for leniency, saying his client was a pawn of powerful
international businessmen and saying he had been "not a co-author" of
the coup plot but "an accomplice".

Now Mann faces imprisonment in Malabo’s notorious Black Beach Prison, the BBC’s West Africa correspondent Will Ross says.

However,
President Obiang has not ruled out the possibility of Mann serving part
of his sentence in a British jail, our correspondent says.

He adds that the best hope of freedom for the Eton-educated former soldier is a presidential pardon.

‘Organisers’

Mann
has implicated Sir Mark Thatcher, son of UK former Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher, and London-based millionaire Eli Calil as organisers
of the plot.

Sir Mark, who now lives in southern Spain, was
fined and received a suspended sentence in South Africa in 2005 for
unknowingly helping to finance the plot.

After Mr Mann’s
verdict, he reiterated to the BBC that he had no direct involvement in
the coup. He said he had known nothing about any plan to overthrow the
government and added that he had already faced justice in South Africa.

Mr Calil also denies involvement.

The attorney general in Equatorial Guinea says he now wants to extradite both men to face justice.

According
to the BBC’s Steve Kingstone, in Madrid, Spanish officials are saying
privately that it is unlikely Sir Mark would be handed over to a
country with a chequered human rights record.

Du Toit has said that he was told they were trying to install an exiled opposition politician, Severo Moto, as president.

Mr. Moto, who is currently in Spain, has denied involvement in the failed coup.

During the trial, Mann also said South Africa and Spain had both given "the green light" for the plot.

Spain
later denied any involvement while South Africa’s Department of Foreign
Affairs said the charge was "as preposterous at it is laughable".

Source: BBC