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British 'mercenary leader’ loses fight over coup plot extradition Print
Jan Raath and Sean O’Neill -  May 10, 2007

A former Scots Guards officer and SAS commander is facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in one of Africa’s most brutal prisons.

Simon Mann, who is said to be seriously ill, was yesterday ordered by a Zimbabwean court to be extradited to Equatorial Guinea, where he is accused of leading a group of mercenaries plotting to overthrow President Mbasogo.

If the extradition goes ahead Mann, 53, will be held in the Black Beach prison in Malabo where conditions have been described by Amnesty International as “life-threatening”.

The coup attempt was foiled in 2004 when Mann and 61 men, mostly South Africans, were arrested after their aircraft touched down in Zimbabwe to pick up a consignment of weapons.

Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former Prime Minister, became embroiled in the plot and fined £272,500 after pleading guilty in South Africa to unwittingly helping to finance it.

Mann, the Eton-educated son of a former England cricket captain, denied being involved in the coup and claimed his group was en route to the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide security at diamond mines.

But he was jailed after a trial on firearms offences held inside Chikurubi prison in Harare and sentenced to four years in prison.

He was due to be released early for good behaviour tomorrow, but the court heard that Mann was freed yesterday morning then immediately rearrested on the extradition warrant.

Jonathan Samkange, Mann’s lawyer, said that he would appeal but said he feared his client – who must now remain in jail – might be spirited out of the country illegally during the night before there was chance to lodge his appeal with the High Court.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it was monitoring the situation closely and was in touch with the Zimbabwean Government and Mann’s lawyers.

Britain has diplomatic relations with Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich state where President Obiang rules as a dictator, but consular representation is provided by diplomats in Cameroon.

At the extradition hearing Mann’s lawyers argued that he had been denied urgent surgery for a hernia. Dr Edwin Muguti, the specialist who had agreed to carry out the operation is also deputy health minister in President Mugabe's regime.

However, Mann seemed to be fit when he appeared in court last month sporting a bushy beard and wearing scruffy prison fatigues.

Omega Mugumbate, the magistrate, approved the application for Mann’s removal, saying lawyers for the government of Equatorial Guinea had established a prima facie case for extradition.

She added that she believed the Guinean regime would honour undertakings not to carry out the death penalty, to appoint a trial judge approved by the African Union and to allow Mann a lawyer of his choice.

Mann has complained that the undertakings were “not worth the paper they were printed on”. His legal team presented reports by the UN Human Rights Commission, the International Bar Association, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that listed a long history of prisoner abuse and biased judges.

An IBA report shown to the courts said courts in Equatorial Guinea were frequently presided over by military judges who were chosen because of their “loyalty” and often had no legal training.

During the treason trial of 144 supposed opposition supporters in 2003, international observers were “shocked and sickened” at the condition of many of the accused who had broken limbs, cuts and bruising.

In 2006 Amnesty reported: “Prison conditions were life-threatening as a result of overcrowding, lack of medical treatment and insufficient food. “Prisoners in Black Beach prison were at risk of starvation, particularly those without families to support them.”

Zimbabwe signed an extradition treaty with Equatorial Guinea after the arrest of the coup suspects. All those arrested with Mann and accused of being mercenaries were later freed after serving minor sentences in Zimbabwe for aviation, immigration and weapons possession offences.

Mann, who has a home on the banks of the Beaulieu in Hampshire, served in Cyprus, Germany, central America and Northern Ireland, before leaving the military in 1981. He returned briefly to work for General Peter de la Billière during the first Gulf War. He then became wealthy working in the shadowy world of international private security.

Sir Mark Thatcher left South Africa after admitting offences connected to the coup attempt.

He admitted financing the purchase of an aircraft but said he did not know it was to be used to launch a coup. He now divides his time between Gibraltar and London and was recently divorced from his wife Diane who lives in the US with their two children.

Nick du Toit, a South African arms dealer and Mann’s business partner, was jailed for 34 years by a court in Equatorial Guinea for his role in the botched coup.

Last year the High Court in London ruled out an attempt by President Obiang to sue Mann, Sir Mark and several others for damages.

Eton to SAS

— Son of England cricket captain and heir to a brewing fortune

— Educated Eton, then Sandhurst. Joined Scots Guards, then SAS

— Left army 1981 and helped establish security company Executive Outcomes and, allegedly, Sandline International

— Companies provided protection for businesses in dangerous regions; in particular, oil installations during the Angolan civil war

— Both linked to allegations over mercenary operations

— Sandline International provided Sierra Leone Government Leone with weapons and allegedly supported training and fighting

— In 1997, government of Papua New Guinea falls after it hires Sandline International mercenaries, leading to an army mutiny
 
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