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Mercenaries cleared of African coup plot Print
By Emma Henry and agencies - 25/02/2007

A South African court has dropped charges against eight men accused of planning a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.
     
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo: Mercenaries cleared of African coup plot
The mercenaries planned to topple Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

The Pretoria Regional Court dismissed the charges against the men, all South Africans, after their lawyers had argued that South Africa's government had tacitly backed the aborted 2004 coup attempt.
South African officials have denied the allegation.

Sir Mark Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher's son, was fined £265,000 by a South African court in 2005 after admitting he helped fund the planned coup.

During the trial prosecutors accused the suspected mercenaries of hatching a plot to kidnap Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea's president, and overthrow his government in the tiny West African nation.

Mr Obiang - who himself seized power in a 1979 coup - was to have been brought to the airport by ringleader Nick du Toit with the promise that a shipment of new 4x4 vehicles was on its way.

He would then have been overpowered and flown out of the country, while exiled opposition politician Severo Moto was to be flown in from Spain, a state witness told the court in South Africa's capital.

Raymond Archer, Victor Dracula, Neves Matias, Mazanga Kashama, Louis du Preez, Errol Harris, Maitre Ruakuluka and Simon Witherspoon were among 61 people arrested at Harare airport on March 7, 2004 after their plane landed, allegedly to pick up weapons for the alleged coup.

Most of the suspected mercenaries were released from a Zimbabwean prison in 2005 after spending a year there, but Briton Simon Mann, the mastermind of the alleged coup plot, is still serving a four-year jail term.

Ten other men, including Du Toit, a South African, are serving sentences of between 13 and 34 years in jail in Equatorial Guinea for their part in the plot.
 
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