Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Equatorial Guinea coup trial takes a new turn

The presidential overthrow trial of Simon Mann took an unexpected turn overnight with Equatorial Guinea issuing an arrest warrant for a new master suspect in the 2004 coup attempt. The government has issued an international warrant for the arrest of Lebanese businessman Ely Calil for his role in the plot to overthrow long-term dictator Teodoro Obiang. Calil is currently living in London and Equatorial Guinea’s British embassy claims it has ample evidence to support his involvement in the coup attempt. The embassy described Calil as the coup’s “organiser, intellectual conspirator, architect and financier.”

It was the 62 year old Calil who transferred $1 million to the bank account of British mercenary Simon Mann who is awaiting sentence for his involvement in the coup. Mann is under arrest in Equatorial Guinea but claims that Calil was the real leader of the coup. Mann calls Calil “Smelly” and said that a group led by Smelly was still conspiring to replace Obiang with Severo Moto, an exiled opposition leader living in Spain.

Simon Mann
is a former member of Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) Mann also made headlines for accusing Margaret Thatcher’s buffoonish son Mark of a role in the coup. In 2005 Thatcher was convicted by South Africa for his role in this case. He was fined after he admitted paying $US275,000 for a helicopter but claimed he thought it was to be used as an air ambulance. Mann said Thatcher was “part of the management team”. Mann said he recruited Thatcher and took him to London to be vetted by Calil, whom he identified as the "boss" of the whole operation. After that, he said, Thatcher was "not just an investor - he came on board completely” and attended many meetings. Mann named Thatcher as one of five men "in charge of the operation". Equatorial Guinea's government has issued an international arrest warrant for him. Thatcher is currently believed to be living in hiding in either the south of Spain or Gibraltar.

Mann was arrested in Zimbabwe in 2004 as he was trying to fly in weapons for the coup plot. His friends claim he was illegally deported to Equatorial Guinea after cash was handed over in suitcases to Mugabe’s henchmen. Mann was expected to be sentenced last week after he pleaded guilty but as yet there has been no verdict. His defence team asked for a ten year sentence but the prosecution has demanded 32 years. However some sources in the capital Malabo say the trial was a charade and that Mann has struck a deal with the authorities that would see him pardoned return to Britain after just a year or two. The 55 year old Mann is in a privileged cell with the ability to make phone calls and eat a daily ordered lunch with Manuel Nguema Mba, the Minister of Security.

In his trial Mann said the 2004 plot was in effect an “official operation”, sanctioned by the Spanish and South African governments, and tacitly endorsed by Washington. Mann said the Pentagon, the CIA and the US oil companies which have invested heavily in Equatorial Guinea were sounded out and all signalled that a "well-conducted change of government would be welcome". Mann said the plot was rushed through before the 2004 Spanish general elections in Spain, in case the friendly government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was defeated (which it was). Mann said Calil had told him the coup plotters had been promised immediate diplomatic recognition by Aznar's administration if they succeeded in overthrowing Obiang.

Obiang’s regime has long been seen as one of the most corrupt and repressive in Africa. He has ruled the oil rich West African nation since he grabbed power from his uncle in 1979 and his party won 99 out of 100 seats in a sham election last month. Last week, Peter Maass writing in Slate magazine called Obiang's life a ‘parody of the dictator genre’ and nominated him as Africa’s worst tyrant. Since the 1990s the country has become Africa’s third largest oil exporter but Obiang has transferred about $700 million of the revenues into his personal account. And because of the oil investment he is lauded in the US not condemned. “For the usual and shameful reasons, the White House does not use its clout to condemn Obiang as it condemns Mugabe”, writes Maass. “Instead of seeking an indictment against the man, the U.S. government is putting rent money in his pocket.”

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