The trial of British mercenary Simon Mann has started in Equatorial
Guinea under heavy security. Mann along with several suspected
associates is being tried in connection with a failed 2004 coup plot
against President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. VOA's Nico Colombant reports
from our regional bureau in Dakar.
British mercenary Simon Mann and others being tried were brought to the court in Malabo in a convoy of armored vehicles.
were allowed inside, but had to leave phones, cameras, and pens
outside, and were told to remove their shoes. They were given
Mann faces the death penalty on charges of
crimes against the head of state, crimes against the government and
crimes against the peace and independence of the state.
served several years in jail in Zimbabwe for attempting to possess
dangerous weapons, before being extradited this year to Equatorial
Mann, who is in his 50s and comes from a British
family with a brewing fortune, helped create two security firms,
Executive Outcomes and Sandline International, which were associated
with mercenary activity during the 1990s.
Prosecutors say he
tried to fly a plane full of weapons to Equatorial Guinea as part of
the 2004 plot to remove President Nguema in exchange for future oil
Eleven other men, including several foreigners, are
serving sentences of between 13 and 34 years in oil-rich Equatorial
Guinea in connection with the failed coup plot.
Nguema was the lawyer for that group's alleged leader, South African
arms dealer Nick Du Toit, as well as for six Equatorial Guineans who
also went on trial Tuesday.
He says authorities have given him
very little time to defend his clients, since the charges were only
announced last Friday, giving him just the weekend and Monday to
Human rights lawyers say most accused in the case have been tortured while in jail and forced to sign or make statements.
researcher working on the Equatorial Guinea desk for London-based
Amnesty International, Muluka-Anne Miti says another foreigner is also
going on trial.
"There is also a Lebanese businessman, Mohamed
Salam, who has been reportedly charged with being an accomplice to the
attempted coup," he said. "This is reportedly based on accusations
that he knew Elie Khalil who reportedly financed the attempted coup and
that Mohamed Salam repeatedly had information about this attempted coup
but did not pass it on to authorities."
Khalil is a Lebanese oil
businessman based in London. The plot also involved the son of former
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mark Thatcher, who pleaded
guilty to a role in the plot under a plea bargain agreement with South
African prosecutors to avoid jail.
Thatcher said he paid for a
military helicopter used by the mercenaries in the failed plot, but
maintained that he believed it was to be used as an air ambulance.
Guinea authorities have said they would like Thatcher to be extradited
to Malabo and have issued an international arrest warrant against him.
Guinea says the aim of the plot was to put exiled opposition leader
Severo Moto in power. Moto is under house arrest in Spain on suspicion
of arms trafficking.
Equatorial Guinea is sub-Saharan Africa's
third biggest oil exporter. The ruling party of 1979 coup leader
turned president Obiang recently won 99 out of 100 seats for a new
parliament. All media in the lightly populated former Spanish colony
is controlled by the government.