Mann to shed light on ZDI role in coup plot

simon_mannHARARE Freed British mercenary Simon Mann has threatened to spill the beans on the failed Equatorial Guinea coup plot in a development that may shed some light on the role played by Zimbabwes state-owned arms manufacturer in the 2004 plan to topple the Central African countrys long-serving leader. (Pictured: Simon Mann in handcuffs and leg irons before his r

Mann was arrested at Harare International Airport in March 2004 together with 69 South African and Congolese mercenaries en route to Equatorial Guinea where they were on a mission to stage a coup against the countrys leader President Theodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The Harare leg of the mission was meant to take delivery of an assortment of arms the mercenaries had bought from the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) but turned sour for the mercenaries after the arms supplier set a trap at the last minute.

He was extradited to Equatorial Guinea in February 2008 after losing a Zimbabwe High Court appeal against being moved to the Central African nation where he had been convicted of plotting to topple the government in absentia. The High Court in Malabo sentenced Mann the former British army officer to 34 years in prison last year but he became eligible for

presidential clemency this year due to good behaviour. The Briton was freed from an Equatorial Guinea prison in the capital Malabo two weeks and immediately threatened to spill the beans of the roles played by several purported financiers and conspirators, including South African-based British businessman Mark Thatcher and Ely Claude Alan Calil, an oil trader who has dual Lebanese and British nationality.

Im very anxious that Calil, Thatcher and one or two of the others should face justice, Mann said within hours of his release on November 2. During his trial in Malabo, he accused Thatcher of financing and managing the coup plot against Obiang. Thatcher was fined the equivalent of 265 000 in January 2005 for breaking South Africas anti-mercenary laws by providing funds for a helicopter for the operation. He denied knowing about the coup plot, but was given a four-year suspended jail sentence in a plea bargain. But it is the role of the ZDI in the whole scheme of things that is likely to attract attention.

The Zimbabwean arms manufacturer is said to have had an excellent working relationship with the alleged coup plotters, raising further questions about whether this was a one-off transaction or part of a long-running business association between the two sides. Zimbabwe military sources told The Zimbabwean On Sunday last week that Harare, like Pretoria, was aware of the coup plot and was even willing to sell the arms to the insurgents until the deal went sour at the last minute. Both (President Robert) Mugabe and former South African president Thabo Mbeki knew about what was going on and only decided to turn on the mercenaries after it became clear that Equatorial Guineas military intelligence had also received word of the planned coup, one source said.

South African intelligence services had apparently known about the coup plot since mid-2003 and even offered tacit support, according to some of Manns fellow mercenaries. ZDI was created in 1984 by the Ministry of Defence to provide the Zimbabwean army and airforce with supplies ranging from small arms and ammunition and landmines to camouflaged combat clothing and rocket launchers.

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