Mann 'only a junior member' of coup plot

Kim Sengupta
Friday 20 June 2008 00:00 BST

Simon Mann has insisted at his trial that he was "only a junior member" of a team plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea and would have ended up as just a glorified security manager after regime change. He claimed that the "real leader", the London-based businessman Eli Calil, thought of himself as becoming the new president's right-hand man after engineering a takeover by an exiled opposition leader.

Mr Mann, a former SAS officer, said Mr Calil, allegedly known to the coup team as "the cardinal", did not invite him to a key meeting in Beirut to draw up a new constitution for Equatorial Guinea because he was not important enough. Mr Calil denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

The Old Etonian heir to a brewery fortune also maintained that the international cartel which masterminded the failed coup could try to seize power again. "There is a group of people around Calil... very powerful. Although I don't know their identities I know they exist... I'm quite sure they are not going to give up."

Giving evidence in his defence at the trial in Malabo, he added: "I'm very sorry I got involved. I regret it very much. Calil was very much the boss. So nothing could happen without Calil telling me yes or no."

Mr Mann has been charged with leading mercenaries in an attempt to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and replace him with the exiled opposition leader Severo Moto Tsa. He was arrested in Harare with 70 mercenaries where they were allegedly picking up arms and ammunition en route to Equatorial Guinea.

He and his lawyer repeatedly asked for clemency yesterday and said others, including Mr Calil and Sir Mark Thatcher, had bankrolled the coup plot.

Mr Mann also said he had refused to follow a plan which would have involved assassinating President Obiang. He believed his only role would have been to guard Mr Moto after he had been installed as leader. He had also said the Spanish and South African governments agreed to the plot, and the Pentagon, CIA and international oil companies had signalled that they would favour regime change.

The hearing continued with testimony from a Lebanese businessman, Mohamed Salaam, who said he also was part of the plot, although it was not clear from the proceedings if he had been charged with any offence or was giving evidence against other defendants. Mr Salaam, 40, is the son of Harry Salaam, a Lebanese-born oilman who is said to be a friend of Mr Calil. He had based himself full-time in Equatorial Guinea seven years ago and is said to have received a gift of $50,000 (£25,000) from President Obiang for services to the country. But he appeared to have fallen out of favour and was arrested after Mr Mann was extradited from Zimbabwe.

His father is reported to have said: "I am extremely worried about my son's health. Mohamed has suffered from bouts of malaria which triggered two bipolar breakdowns. He has suffered a third breakdown which could be very damaging to his permanent mental health."

Electric power failed part-way through Mr Salaam's testimony yesterday but the trial continued without microphones or air conditioning.

The prosecution said that Mr Mann's alleged crimes warrant the death penalty but that was excluded as part of the extradition agreement.

The case continues.

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