Mann prosecutors show coup contract to court

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The Independent Online

Government lawyers displayed a contract in court yesterday which they said was proof that the former British military officer Simon Mann played a key role in a plot to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's President four years ago.

Mr Mann, 55, identified his signature on the contract – also signed by the exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto, who would allegedly be installed as president – and on financial statements and other documents as his trial entered a fourth day.

He is accused of planning to topple the longtime dictator of Africa's third-biggest oil producer, President Teodoro Obiang.

Prosecutors say that Mr Mann was the ringleader of a coup plot financed by Mark Thatcher, the son of the former British prime minister Baroness Thatcher. The government says that Mr Mann hoped Mr Moto would give them access to the tiny nation's oil wealth. Mr Mann's lawyer said that a verdict was not likely before next week. The trial has already been extended past the three days originally predicted by officials.

Jose Pablo Nvo, the government-appointed defence lawyer, said the three-judge panel will need time to deliberate, possibly days. Mr Nvo did not rule out the possibility of an appeal if Mr Mann is convicted, but would not comment further. "Let us see the sentence first," Mr Nvo said.

Mr Mann has testified that he knowingly agreed to take part in the coup and apologised for his role, but maintained that he was not a key member of the plot. He said the Nigerian-born British businessman Eli Calil, who has denied involvement, headed the operation and stood to wield significant power in the new administration.

Mr Mann also said that Sir Mark was not only a financier but an integral part of the group. Sir Mark pleaded guilty in a South African court several years ago to unwittingly helping bankroll the operation. He was fined and given a suspended sentence. Mr Mann was extradited to Spanish-speaking Equatorial Guinea in January from Zimbabwe, where he had already served four years in prison. The extradition agreement prohibits the death penalty, but Mr Mann could face 30 years in prison if convicted.

The Lebanese businessman Mohamed Salaam and six Equatorial Guineans are also defendants in the trial. Mr Salaam is facing a prison term of 28 years if convicted and the Equatorial Guineans each face four-year terms. Two other Equatorial Guineans were charged but one has since died and the other was set free for lack of evidence.

Mr Mann and a planeload of 70 others were arrested in 2004 in Zimbabwe, where they are said to have flown to collect weapons bought from the country's state arms manufacturer.

The first trial, in August 2004, resulted in a 34-year prison sentence for the South African arms dealer Nick Du Toit.

Equatorial Guinea has enormous oil reserves but many of its people remain poor. Mr Obiang seized control of the nation in a 1979 coup.