The jailed mercenary Simon Mann has cut a deal with prosecutors in Equatorial Guinea, and will be released early if he provides hard evidence against the organisers and funders of a failed 2004 coup plot, according to sources in the oil-rich West African country.
Mann, a former Guards and SAS officer, last week named the London-based millionaire Ely Calil as the "architect" of the attempt to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Mr Calil has always denied any involvement. Mann also implicated Sir Mark Thatcher as "part of the team".
A month ago Mann was extradited late at night to Equatorial Guinea from Zimbabwe, where he had just finished a four-year prison sentence for obtaining arms. In an interview with Channel 4 News, he said he was simply the "manager" of the abortive coup. He complained of rough treatment in Zimbabwe and of "kidnap" in being sent to Equatorial Guinea, but said he had been well treated since his arrival.
After his arrest in Zimbabwe with 70 other mercenaries four years ago, Mann denied there was a coup plot, claiming he and his team were heading out to protect a Congo mine. But in the interview he admitted they intended to depose President Obiang and replace him with Severo Moto, an exiled rival.
According to sources, the Old Etonian, 58, will stand trial in Equatorial Guinea's capital, Malabo, next month, and will name the coup plotters in court. One friend said he expected Mann to be sentenced to six years, with his four years served in Zimbabwe deducted, and that after a year he would be quietly released. But the deal will not apply unless the former officer, who made a fortune with the South African-based private military company Executive Outcomes, can substantiate his allegations.
The most important documents are the bank accounts in Guernsey of two companies Mann used as vehicles for organising the coup – Logo Ltd and Systems Design. Lawyers acting for Equatorial Guinea applied to the Guernsey Court for the accounts in 2004, and a partial set of statements was released by the bank to the country's British lawyer. These showed a "JH Archer" paid money into an account shortly before the coup attempt, but last week Mann quashed talk that this was Lord Archer, a friend of Mr Calil.
An earlier unreleased set of accounts is said to reveal who really funded the coup, but the Guernsey bank refused to release further documents without a court order. Equatorial Guinea has so far failed to obtain this, but it launched a civil case in London two years ago for damages against the alleged plotters, including Mr Calil, Mann and Greg Wales, a businessman. After failing in the High Court and Court of Appeal, the African country took the case to the Lords, but proceedings were halted when Mann was extradited to Equatorial Guinea.
If Mann is co-operating with Equatorial Guinea, he can order the release of these key documents. This could also revive an Anti-Terrorist Branch investigation, which started in 2005 but later foundered.
Born in Nigeria to a Lebanese family, Mr Calil, 62, is a naturalised British citizen who made his millions through huge deals in Africa. He owns a sumptuous house in north London, but since the 2004 coup attempt has spent a large part of his time abroad.
"If they get hard evidence, Mr Calil will find Equatorial Guinea's lawyers dogging his footsteps at every turn," said a source. "As they have already done in London, EG will also issue civil proceedings in any other country he tries to work in. He won't be able to operate easily in Africa, which has always been the centre of his business dealings."
Sir Mark Thatcher, 54, may also face legal action from the West African nation. Baroness Thatcher's son was fined and given a suspended sentence in South Africa for his part in the plot. Last week he told Channel 4 News: "Simon Mann is an old friend of mine... Clearly what's happening to him now is very worrying, and he must be frightened and acutely distressed, poor man."