Exemplary sentence awaits Simon Mann

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Exemplary sentence awaits Simon Mann

Post  Jennie on Tue Jun 24, 2008 2:59 pm

Exemplary sentence awaits Simon Mann

Monday June 23, 2008

In keeping with the show trial trappings, Simon Mann is expected to receive an exemplary heavy prison sentence in Equatorial Guinea this week, if not quite the 32 years requested by the prosecution.

But as Mann took his customary lunch today with the security minister, washed down with a glass of rioja, few observers believed his sentencing would be the end of the matter.

There is talk in diplomatic circles that President Teodoro Obiang is looking for a way to avoid incarcerating such a high profile prisoner for long in Black Beach prison. With earnings from oil rocketing from $3.5bn (18bn) in 2006, good relations with the west and pursuing the main financiers of the coup are Obiang's twin main priorities.

"He needs a face-saving device," said one diplomat. "After 18 months or so I can see Mann being released on health grounds [he has a hernia], perhaps with a proviso that he spends some time in a UK prison."

That view is shared by some of the trial lawyers, although their time-scale for Mann's imprisonment differs.

Mann has certainly been helpful since being extradited from Zimbabwe, in February, after spending four years in a Harare prison for illegal possession of arms. Along with 69 South African mercenaries he was en route to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea when he was arrested. Their attempt may end up ranking as the last of the reckless dogs of war escapades everyone thought had died with the 20th century.

Mann has provided Equatorial Guinean officials with many of the financial records of the coup, along with the names of the alleged main investors. Several, including Mark Thatcher, are British and, because much of the alleged conspiracy took place in the UK, Scotland Yard is investigating charges under the Terrorism Act.

Mann has also put the governments of Spain and South Africa squarely in the frame. Those countries gave the plotters the green light, he told the court last week.

The American ambassador - in court for the whole four days last week - was seen furiously scribbling when Mann said the Pentagon and the CIA would have welcomed regime change. That was an embarrassing moment for the US. It is the largest investor in the booming Equatorial Guinean oil industry, making the country the third largest producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

Although the prosecutor, attorney general Jose Olo Obono, did not acknowledge Mann's assistance, the mercenary's defence lawyer passionately argued for a lenient sentence in return for his client's cooperation.

The Equatorial Guinean government has been at pains to argue that the trial met international standards. The entire diplomatic corps of Malabo was invited to attend proceedings and the British consul flew in from Lagos, in Nigeria.

However, the deficiencies of the trial have been glaring. Six supporters of the exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto, whom they had hoped to install as president after the coup, were also on trial. Given minimal access to lawyers, they all withdrew their confessions. One declared he had been tortured.

Mann's co-defendants were arrested after an arms cache was found in the house of another man in March. He died in custody. The authorities say he committed suicide but Amnesty says it has reliable evidence he died from an inflicted skull fracture.

After the six said they knew nothing of the guns, and that some barely knew each other, their sentences were increased from four to 20 years.

Their lawyer, Fabien Nguema, has a firsthand account of these matters. As a Moto supporter he was arrested and taken to Black Beach and says he has the scars from being hung from the ceiling "like an antelope". He was released in 2004.

"How can you say this is a fair trial when these men say they have been tortured and, when they are honest, you increase their sentence?" he said.

The man among the six Moro supporters who said he had been maltreated, Bonifacio Ngueme Ndang, an electrician, spoke of the contrast between conditions for Mann and the rest of the inmates in Black Beach.

While Mann's lunch came from a local restaurant and he had an exercise bike in his cell, Ndong said: "I want the court to know about the conditions in Black Beach. There is no medical attention, the food is terrible and there are no visits ."

(Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/23/equatorialguinea.southafrica)
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Jennie
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