Prosecutors seek 30-year jail term for British mercenary

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The Independent Online

Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year prison sentence for a British ex-military officer accused of masterminding a failed coup plot in the Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea.

Attorney General Jose Olo Obono said the charges against Simon Mann merit the death penalty — but an extradition agreement prohibits it. Obono, addressing the court today at the opening of the trial, asked for a stiff prison term if Mann is convicted.

Mann, 55, is accused of attempting to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang, a longtime dictator who seized power in a 1979 coup. Prosecutors alleged that Mann was the ringleader of a coup plot financed by Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Two other charges against Mann include "attempting to overthrow the government" and "destabilizing the peace," Obono said. A verdict was expected Thursday.

Mann first was arrested in 2004 when his plane landed in Harare, Zimbabwe, with 70 other alleged mercenaries to collect weapons purchased from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

He has given different explanations, saying he and his team were hired to be bodyguards for a new president — not to overthrow Obiang's government. He also has said the weapons were to be used under a contract to guard a mine in Congo.

Mann was extradited to the Spanish-speaking nation in January from Zimbabwe, where he had already served about four years in prison.

Security was tight Tuesday, with dozens of soldiers deployed and snipers perched on rooftops in the area.

A bespectacled Mann sat calmly in the courtroom, dressed in a gray prison uniform, as the trial was conducted in Spanish.

On the eve of the trial, Obiang had told Britain's Channel 4 News that he did not rule out the death penalty, but said the court "will determine what kind of punishment" Mann should face if convicted.

Obono told The Associated Press earlier that the country's justice system will "demonstrate through Simon Mann's own statements, the level of participation of each of the people implicated in this affair, which was orchestrated from beginning to end by Simon Mann."

Government-appointed defense attorney Jose Pablo Nvo said he was working for Mann "first, to not have a death sentence, and then to stay the least time possible in prison."

Nvo took on the job of defending Mann just two weeks ago, but said he believed the trial would be fair.

"I spoke with Mr. Mann last week," he said. Referring to court documents, he added: "I can read what is written in one day. It's about 192 pages."

Equatorial Guinea alleges that Mark Thatcher commissioned the attempt to overthrow Obiang and install exiled opposition leader Severo Moto. In April, a Spanish court ordered Moto jailed without bail on suspicion of trying to send arms to the African country.

Thatcher pleaded guilty in a South African court several years ago to unwittingly helping bankroll a 2004 coup plot. He was fined and given a suspended sentence.

Obiang told Channel 4 News that his government concluded that Mann "was used as an instrument, but there were material and intellectual authors behind it that financed the operation." Obiang cited an alleged contract between Mann and Moto in which Moto offered to give Mann the right to exploit oil.

Equatorial Guinea held its first trial in connection with the alleged plot in August 2004. South African arms dealer Nick Du Toit was sentenced to 34 years in prison.

Rights group Amnesty International has said past trials in the case were flawed and impartial, with detainees allegedly tortured in jail and the prosecution offering bribes and inducements for defendants willing to incriminate others.

Obiang's tightly controlled country commands enormous oil reserves — it is Africa's third biggest oil producer — but many of its people remain poor. The tiny nation is also considered to be among the continent's worst violators of human rights.

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