British mercenary jailed in Zimbabwe

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The Independent Online

The former British SAS soldier Simon Mann, the alleged leader of a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, was today sentenced to seven years in prison for trying to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

The former British SAS soldier Simon Mann, the alleged leader of a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, was today sentenced to seven years in prison for trying to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe handed down the sentences in a makeshift courthouse inside the Chikurubi maximum-security prison near Harare where Mann and other accused mercenaries have been detained since their March 7 arrest.

Most were taken into custody after their Boeing 727 landed at the Harare International Airport during what prosecutors say was a plot to stage a coup in oil-rich west African nation of Equatorial Guinea - a scandal that also has implicated Mark Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He is accused of helping to finance the alleged plot.

Two flight crew members of the Boeing 727 were sentenced to 16 months in prison and 66 other suspected mercenaries received 12-month jail terms on minor immigration and aviation charges.

Mann, 51, showed no emotion at his sentencing. At earlier hearings, Mann admitted trying to order assault rifles, grenades, anti-tank rocket launchers and other weapons from the Zimbabwe Defense Industries - an offence punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

But he insisted the weapons were to be used for guarding mining operations in the eastern Congo and that he and the others were headed to security jobs there.

However, Zimbabwe prosecutors say Equatorial Guinea's Spanish-based rebel leader, Severo Moto, offered the group US$1.8 million and oil rights to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Nguema has presided for 25 years over what is widely considered one of the world's most corrupt and oppressive regimes.

Nineteen others, including Europeans and Africans, are being tried in Equatorial Guinea in connection with the alleged plot. Another defendant, a German, died shortly after his arrest in March after Amnesty International said he appeared to have been tortured.

Last month, Guvamombe acquitted Mann of an additional charge of taking possession of weapons in Zimbabwe. He acquitted the other suspects on weapons charges but convicted them on violations of immigration and aviation laws.

Two men, South Africans Harry Carlse and Lourens Horn, were released Aug 27. Prosecutors claimed they were hired by Mann to inspect the weapons, but acknowledged the weapons were never delivered to them for inspection.

The other 64 defendants and the flight crew pleaded guilty to immigration and aviation violations. Those offences carried a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a fine.

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