Coup plot conviction increases the pressure on Mark Thatcher

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A ZIMBABWE court yesterday convicted Briton Simon Mann, a former SAS and Scots Guards officer, of attempting to buy weapons for an attempted coup in the oil-rich West African state of Equatorial Guinea.

Mann faces a sentence of between five and ten years when the court reconvenes in the depths of Harare’s notorious Chikurubi Prison on 10 September. A worse fate for Mann, following his conviction, could be extradition to Equatorial Guinea, where his alleged fellow coup-collaborator, former South African special forces soldier Nick du Toit, is on trial for his life.

State prosecutors in Equatorial Guinea have demanded the firing squad for Du Toit. They have also asked for the extradition of Mann and Mark Thatcher, the son of the former prime minister Baroness Thatcher, to stand trial in Malabo, the Equatorial Guinea capital.

Thatcher was arrested last Wednesday in Cape Town by South Africa's elite anti-fraud unit, the Scorpions, and charged with supplying at least two aircraft and 175,000 to support the coup.

Harare magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe, sitting in special session in Chikurubi Prison, found 51-year-old Mann guilty of attempting to buy 20 machine guns, more than 60 AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 75,000 rounds of ammunition, 80 mortar bombs, 100 anti-tank rockets and 150 hand grenades from Zimbabwe Defence Industries, the weapons-trading company of President Robert Mugabe’s government.

The magistrate acquitted 66 South Africans and Angolans of the same charges. The men had flown aboard a Boeing 727 aircraft owned by Mann to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, from a small South African airfield on the night of 7 March this year. Mann and his men, many of them former special forces soldiers, argued they were en route to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fulfil a contract to provide security at diamond mines. The prosecution and the Equatorial Guinea and South African governments said they were en route to Malabo to topple dictator President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

Mann and most of his men had already been found guilty of breaching Zimbabwean immigration laws. They will be sentenced to jail terms up to 18 months on these convictions on 10 September. Two men found not guilty on either the arms or immigration charges were expected to be freed.

Zimbabwean state prosecutors argued during Mann’s trial that he had been offered a minimum of 1.1million and shares in Equatorial Guinea’s burgeoning oil enterprises if he and his mercenaries successfully overthrew Nguema, who has been in power for 25 years. The offer came from Equatorial Guinea political dissident Severo Moto, who heads a government-in-exile in Spain.

South Africa’s minister of intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, said Mann and his men were arrested in Zimbabwe following a tip-off about the planned coup from the South African intelligence service. South African agents intercepted a desperate, scrawled plea for help from Mann to his wife, Amanda, in Cape Town’s millionaires’ suburb of Constantia. Mark Thatcher is a neighbour and close friend of the Manns in Constantia, and it was the Mann letter, smuggled out of Chikurubi, that led to the arrest of the millionaire son of Britain’s former prime minister.

Mann’s letter, using English public school jargon worthy of Bertie Wooster, has been widely leaked. Mann went to Eton and Thatcher to Harrow. The letter has been widely dubbed "the wonga list" because of its plea for financial help and its colourful naming of prominent people who allegedly co-financed the attempted coup d’tat.

Mann’s letter to Amanda referred to a contact called "Scratcher", who the Scorpions say is Thatcher. The letter, written on two plain sheets of paper and a torn magazine page, said: "Our situation is not good and very URGENT. They (Mann’s lawyers) get no reply from Smelly and Scratcher, who asked them to ring back after the Grand Prix race was over! This is not going well. I must say once again: what will get us out is MAJOR CLOUT. Once we get into a real trial scenario we are f****d."

The Scorpions believe "Smelly" might be Ely Calil, a multi-millionaire Lebanese oil trader who lives in a 20 million house in Chelsea, London, and who is accused by the Equatorial Guinea government of being at the heart of the plot. Calil is a close friend of Severo Moto, who allegedly was to be installed as Equatorial Guinea’s new president within 30 minutes of the toppling of President Nguema. Calil is also believed to be close to Lord Jeffrey Archer, who allegedly put 74,000 into Mann’s account just four days before Mann’s arrest in Zimbabwe - although Lord Archer has denied any prior knowledge of the coup attempt.

Mann’s letter also said: "We need heavy influence of the sort that ... Smelly, Scratcher … David Hart, and it needs to be used heavily and now."

David Hart is a former Old Etonian millionaire adviser to Margaret Thatcher and was her chief enforcer during the 1984 miners' strike. He is known to have excellent access to the US government and worked closely with CIA boss Bill Casey in the early and mid-1980s. More recently he has worked as a middle man for a number of defence contractors.

The letter went on: "It may be that getting us out comes down to a large splodge of wonga! Of course, investors did not think this would happen. Did I? Do they think they can be part of something like this with only upside potential, no hardship or risk of this going wrong? Anyone and everyone in this is in it - good times or bad."

The Mann and Thatcher families, including Lady Thatcher, had Christmas lunch together last year behind the ten-foot wall of the Thatcher Cape Town home, cared for by 12 servants and protected by electric fencing and gun-toting bodyguards.

Ironically, another of Mark Thatcher’s close neighbours is the son of the man he is alleged to have tried to help overthrow. Teodorn Nguema Obiang, Nguema’s son by his first wife, Constancia Okomo, bought his two 2 million Cape mansions a few months ago, apparently with oil money laundered by his father through Riggs Bank in Washington. Teodorn is a ruthless killer tipped as the favourite to succeed his father, who is suffering from prostate cancer. He is much feared and reviled but exercises power through his music station, Radio Asonga.

Teodorn, 34, officially the forestry minister in his father's government, lives much of the time in Paris, where he has a fleet of Bentley and Lamborghini cars. He also owns a 4.5 million house in Bel-Air, California, and the rap music label TNO.

Other Thatcher neighbours include Earl Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana; two mafia godfathers wanted for trial in Italy and the United States; two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and American international oil smuggler Marc Rich, a friend of Bill Clinton who was pardoned by the former US president before he left office.

The Thatcher home, a thatched gabled house in the Cape Dutch architectural style, overlooks a huge bay which at this time is filled with magnificent Southern Right whales.

Britons not slow to fight in foreign wars, but many ended up as soldiers of misfortune

ONE OF the most infamous cases relating to the capture and trial of a British soldier of fortune in Africa involved Costas Georgiou - known as Colonel Callan - who led mercenaries against the Cuban army during the civil war in Angola in the mid-seventies.

Pressure for Downing Street to end the recruitment of mercenaries on UK soil grew in the late eighties and early nineties after Georgiou, a Londoner of Greek Cypriot extraction, led his band of ex-soldiers, mechanics, cooks and bottle-washers into front-line action against Cuban regulars in the oil rich African state over a period of ten years.

During the conflict the self-styled colonel became notorious for executing 14 of his misfit mercenaries for alleged cowardice, forcing the bewildered men to strip to their underpants and then cutting them down with a sub-machine gun as they tried to escape into the surrounding bush.

At another stage of the Angolan war he pressed men, who had enlisted as vehicle mechanics, into infantry service with threats of death if they didn’t help to repel a Cuban tank assault. Dozens were later killed without firing a shot in anger, unaware of how to slip off the safety catches of their rifles or change magazines.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Georgiou and a number of his men finally met their own end in front of an Angolan firing squad.

Georgiou was tried and executed along with several other mercenaries - including American Daniel Gearhart, a father of four who had been in Angola only a few days before his capture. Many Scots also have found themselves at the centre of scandals involving mercenary work abroad, operating in the drug wars in Colombia, the Rhodesian Selou's Scouts and a South African counter-insurgency unit in Namibia. More than 200 Britons fought during the war in former Yugoslavia, mainly for the Croats.