Soldier, actor and businessman: The multi-skilled life of a modern 'dog of war'

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The Independent Online

For much of his life Simon Mann has been part "dog of war" and part modern-day businessman. Now he is a prisoner in a Zimbabwean jail.

As a member of Britain's SAS, the one-time Scots Guard soldier is used to roughing it. But as the scion of a wealthy brewing family and the fifth member of his family to go to Eton, Mr Mann is also accustomed to some of life's better things. His father and grandfather were captains ofEngland's cricket team.

Mr Mann, who is in his fifties, has a long and colourful history in warfare and private armies. After leaving the SAS in 1985 he and an associate, Tony Buckingham, established the mercenary group Executive Outcomes, which had offices in South Africa and in Chelsea, West London.

Mr Mann was also instrumental in the establishment of Sandline, the British-based mercenary group headed by the former British Army Lieutenant- Colonel Tim Spicer. Sandline shared offices with a number of other companies owned by Mr Buckingham and Mr Mann. Famously, Sandline was involved in 1997 in helping restore the ousted President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

In his 1999 biography, An Unorthodox Soldier: Peace and War and the Sandline Affair, Mr Spicer says that he met Mr Mann in the early 1990s when he was working for the British Lieutenant-General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who in April 1992 had returned to London and retired from his military career. He immediately took up a new post as the British government's "Middle East adviser". The job involved selling military services to and obtaining or retaining British bridgeheads in the Gulf.

Mr Spicer apparently contacted Mr Mann and "co-opted" the anti-terrorism and computer specialist into the operation. According to Mr Spicer, the two men were employed "as liaison with the rulers of the Gulf States".

However, a report published by the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity claimed that a business associate of Mr Mann had acknowledged that this was just a cover story. The real task of the men, the man had said, was "to help Peter de la Billiere market the training services of 22 SAS" and thus gain new clients for Britain's elite troops. The centre's report claims that after leaving the SAS Mr Mann's first commercial venture was not as a mercenary, but in the field of computer security.

The report said: "Mann joined forces with a former insurance broker who had pioneered computer insurance and had been a manager for Control Risks, a large and reputable risk-assessment consultancy that was founded by ex-SAS officers."

In 1990 Mr Mann established contact with the oil entrepreneur Tony Buckingham, who may have also served with the special forces. Together they formed Executive Outcomes, a modern-day mercenary group that marketed the talents and skills of their friends and former colleagues. From their offices at 535 King's Road, the pair ran businesses that had interests in oil, gold and diamond mining, a chartered accountancy practice, and offshore financial management services.

Executive Outcomes was involved in operations across southern Africa, often accepting oil or diamond-mining concessions by way of payment. In 1993 Executive Outcomes was employed by the Angolan government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to help regain the Soyo oilfields, which had been seized by the Unita rebels.

A report by the well-regarded Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa, says that the two-and-a-half year contract was worth more than $40m a year.

Authorities in Zimbabwe said that Mr Mann had gone there in February and said he represented a company called Logo Logistics Ltd and was seeking to buy weapons for a security operation.

An associate of Mr Mann's told The Independent that he spent the past two years working in South Africa trying to build business connections. "He comes up to the UK occasionally" said the associate. "He has been active for a long time. He has been trying to develop his commercial interests."

He is also something of an actor. In Paul Greengrass's 2002 film Bloody Sunday, Mr Mann, who served in Northern Ireland, plays the part of Colonel Derek Wilford, commanding officer of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, the unit that went into the Bogside on the day. The film notes say: "He lives mainly in South Africa, where he runs a security operation."