Equatorial Guinea is willing to guarantee that it would not use the death penalty if it were allowed to extradite Sir Mark Thatcher and other British citizens it accuses of involvement in a coup plot, the country's Attorney-General, Jose Olo Obono, has told The Independent on Sunday.
Sir Mark, freed from house arrest in Cape Town on Friday after his mother, Baroness Thatcher, put up £165,000 bail money, is being investigated under South Africa's Foreign Military Assistance Act for his alleged part in financing a botched coup against President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's regime in March. Equatorial Guinea officials are due to arrive in South Africa today, and may be allowed to question him, but the west African nation wants Sir Mark and other Britons, including Simon Mann, an ex-SAS officer facing sentence in Zimbabwe on arms charges, Greg Wales, a British businessman, and Ely Calil, a London-based oil trader accused of masterminding the plot, to face its own justice.
Sir Mark's alleged fellow conspirators have far more reason to fear a request for them to face charges there. Apart from President Obiang's dismal human rights record, British and South African law prevents extradition to countries that have capital punishment, and Mr Obono has demanded the death sentence for Nick du Toit, one of eight South Africans on trial in Malabo on charges of abetting the coup attempt.
But in his tiled office in the capital's Spanish colonial-era presidential compound, the Attorney-General said: "South Africa would simply try them [the British residents] in connection with illegal arms trading. We accuse them of crimes against the life of our head of state, of compromising the peace and independence of our country. We have a better claim. If we give an undertaking to the British Government that they will not be executed, then Britain should be willing to extradite them here."
He dismissed allegations that some of the accused in Malabo had been tortured, saying: "At this stage they will say anything to get sympathy. Their defence counsel are free to say what they want, but they have not raised the matter." Amnesty International says, however, that a German suspect who died soon after his arrest was tortured, and defence lawyers have complained of intimidation and lack of access to their clients. The trial was suspended for a month last week to allow fresh evidence about the abortive coup to emerge from proceedings abroad, and Mr Obono said it could be delayed further. But President Obiang left little doubt about the outcome when he said: "It is up to the court to decide what condemnation they will set."
Previous coup attempts against the President, who overthrew and executed his uncle in 1979, were small, domestic affairs. Few paid attention to events in Malabo, which, according to a whitewashed obelisk at the harbour, was originally named Santa Isabel in 1843 by its founder, the commander of the Spanish vessel Nervion.
But Equatorial Guinea has become sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil exporter since offshore fields were discovered in the mid-1990s, raising the stakes. International involvement in the latest plot, which collapsed when Zimbabwe intercepted a planeload of South African former special forces soldiers in March, has kept tensions high in Malabo. A large number of foreigners were expelled from the country immediately afterwards, and those remaining are treated with suspicion and hostility. A force of Moroccan bodyguards surrounds President Obiang wherever he goes, but there are rumours that his health is failing, and that another coup attempt may not be long delayed.
According to a High Court action in London launched by Equatorial Guinea, the aim of the plotters was to replace the president with Severo Moto, an opposition politician exiled in Spain. Mr Obiang's government has accused the former Spanish government of Jose Maria Aznar of complicity, and according to Mr Obono, Britain and the US were "fully aware" of the intended coup. "We received warnings from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola, but nothing from Britain or America," he said. "There are indications that they, like Spain, were prepared to recognise a Severo Moto government."Reuse content