Simon Mann names Sir Mark Thatcher as coup plotter
Martin Fletcher in Malabo
Simon Mann, the Old Etonian mercenary, has placed Sir Mark Thatcher right at
the heart of the plot to overthrow the President of the oil-rich Equatorial
Guinea in 2004.
In electrifying testimony before a court in the tiny West African state
yesterday, Mann flatly contradicted Sir Mark’s insistence that he knew
nothing about the attempted coup d’état and gave money unwittingly.
Mann said that he recruited the former Prime Minister’s son and took him to
London to be vetted by Ely Calil, the Lebanese-Nigerian tycoon whom he
identified as the “boss” of the whole operation. After that, he said, Sir
Mark was “not just an investor. He came on board completely and became part
of the management team”, attending many meetings. He named Sir Mark as one
of five men “in charge of the operation”.
Sir Mark struck a plea bargain with South African prosecutors in 2005. He
admitted paying $275,000 (£140,530) for a helicopter but claimed that he
thought it was to be used as an air ambulance. He was fined £266,000,
received a four-year suspended sentence, and now lives on an exclusive
estate in Spain while Mann is in the infamous Black Beach jail in Malabo.
José Olo Obano, the Attorney-General of Equatorial Guinea, said that he would
seek the extraditions of Sir Mark and Mr Calil. In March Mr Calil denied any
link with the plot.
In four hours of testimony Mann also claimed that the attempted coup was in
effect an “official operation” sanctioned by the Spanish and South African
governments, and that even President Mbeki knew of it.
He said that the Pentagon, the CIA and the US oil companies who have invested
heavily in Equatorial Guinea were sounded out, and all signalled that a
“well-conducted change of government would be welcome”. However, he declined
to implicate the British Government, saying he was “amazed” to learn later
that it had been aware of the plot.
Mann spoke calmly, but it was the testimony of a man fighting to avoid three
decades in an African prison. The former SAS officer lost his composure only
when the judge asked whether a 30-year sentence was justified. “I don’t
agree with that. No. Please,” he replied.
He ended his testimony with an abject apology, adding: “I’m also very happy
that we failed . . . especially now that I am here and have met some of you.
And I think that the people who were seriously involved and have not faced
justice should do so.”
Mann — who stood to make at least $15 million (£7.7 million) if the coup
succeeded — claimed that he agreed to remove President Teodoro Obiang
Nguema, reputedly one of Africa’s most corrupt and brutal dictators, “for
the money yes, but also because it was the right thing to do”.
He said that he rejected the idea of assassinating Mr Obiang, and that he and
his 80 fellow mercenaries were to land in Malabo straight after a palace
coup, merely to guard Severo Moto Tsa, the exiled opposition leader who
would replace the ousted President.
“When we arrived we would not be shooting, we would be shaking hands,” he
said. Plan B — taking Malabo by force — would only kick in if the palace
coup failed. Even then there was no plan to “erase people”.
Mann said Mr Calil and Mr Moto repeatedly assured him that José Maria Aznar’s
conservative Government in Spain was “100 per cent behind the coup”, would
immediately recognise Mr Moto’s administration, and send Civil Guards to
help to keep order.Spain denied this last night.
Mr Mbeki’s spokesman also denied that the South African President or his
Government knew of the plot.