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South African Mercenaries Acquitted of Weapons Charges in Zimbabwe - 2004-08-27


A Zimbabwe court Friday acquitted more than 60 alleged South African mercenaries of weapons charges. Most of the men pleaded guilty to lesser charges of violating Zimbabwe's immigration and civil aviation laws.

Judge Mishrold Guvamombe said Friday that prosecutors failed to provide more than circumstantial evidence to convict 66 South Africans accused of conspiring to acquire dangerous weapons. That is not sufficient for a conviction, he ruled.

The charges were brought under Zimbabwe's tough security laws. The men had told the court two weeks ago during their trial that they were on their way to guard a mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the state alleged they were plotting to overthrow the government of oil rich Equatorial Guinea.

The men were arrested in March at Harare international airport, where a consignment of weapons was waiting to be loaded onto their aircraft. The weapons were bought by the leader of the group, a British soldier, Simon Mann, who pleaded guilty to charges that he attempted to possess dangerous weapons, but he maintained he is innocent of buying them without a license.

Mr. Mann will have to wait until September 10th to learn what sentence he will receive on the weapons charge and whether he is found guilty of buying them without a license.

The rest of the group will also have to wait until September 10th to find out what their sentence is for violating Zimbabwe's immigration and civil aviation laws, charges to which they pleaded guilty.

In a related development, South Africa this week arrested Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on charges that he was connected to the alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea. He says, although he knew the leader of the group, Simon Mann, he was not connected in any way to the alleged plot.

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