Ex-SAS officer Simon Mann facing the death penalty

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Ex-SAS officer Simon Mann facing the death penalty

Post  Jennie on Tue Jun 17, 2008 11:52 pm

EQUATORIAL GUINEA:

Ex-SAS officer Simon Mann facing the death penalty as 'African coup plot' trial opens


A former SAS officer accused of masterminding a failed coup plot against oil-rich Equatorial Guinea's dictator began today.

Simon Mann faces a possible death sentence in the case, in which a verdict is expected by Thursday.

Prosecutors allege Mann was the ringleader of a plot financed by the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang, who seized power in a 1979 coup.

He was first arrested in 2004 when his plane landed in Harare with 70 other alleged mercenaries to collect weapons purchased from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

Mann has given different explanations, saying he and his team were hired to be bodyguards for a new president - not to overthrow Obiang's government.

He has also said the weapons were to be used under a contract to guard a mine in Congo.

Mann was extradited to the Spanish-speaking Central African nation in January from Zimbabwe.

The Briton was driven in an armored car to a conference center complex where the trial was due to start. Security was tight, with dozens of soldiers deployed and snipers perched on rooftops in the area.

Journalists were allowed in the courthouse but most without cameras, tape recorders, cell phones or even pens and notebooks.

Attorney General Jose Olo Obono said that Equatorial Guinea's justice system will 'demonstrate through Simon Mann's own statements, the level of participation of each of the people implicated in this affair, which was orchestrated from beginning to end by Simon Mann'.

Prosecutors have not formally said whether they will demand the maximum punishment - the death penalty - or the lesser sentence of 30 years in prison for treason.

In an interview with Channel 4 News on the eve of the trial, Obiang did not rule out the death penalty, but said the court 'will determine what kind of punishment' Mann will face.

Government-appointed defence attorney Jose Pablo Nvo said he was working for his client 'first, to not have a death sentence, and then to stay the least time possible in prison'.

Nvo will be the only one defending the Briton in court. He took on the job just two weeks ago, but said he believes the trial will be fair. He said he has had unrestricted access to his client and plenty of time to prepare.

'I spoke with Mr. Mann last week,' he said.

Referring to court documents, he added: 'I can read what is written in one day. It's about 192 pages.'

Equatorial Guinea alleges that Mann's friend Mark Thatcher, the son of the former British prime minister, commissioned an attempt to overthrow Obiang and install exiled opposition leader Severo Moto.

In April, a Spanish court ordered Moto jailed without bail on suspicion of trying to send arms to the African country.

Mark Thatcher pleaded guilty in a South African court several years ago to unwittingly helping bankroll a 2004 coup plot. He was fined and given a suspended sentence.

Obiang told Channel 4 News his government had concluded that Mann 'was used as an instrument, but there were material and intellectual authors behind it that financed the operation'.

Obiang said there had been a contract between Mann and Moto in which Moto was going to give Mann rights to exploit oil.

Equatorial Guinea held its 1st trial in the alleged plot in August 2004. South African arms dealer Nick Du Toit was sentenced to 34 years in prison.

Amnesty International has said past trials in the case were flawed and impartial, with detainees allegedly tortured in jail and the prosecution offering bribes and inducements for defendants willing to incriminate others.

Obiang's tightly controlled country commands enormous oil reserves - it is Africa's 3rd biggest oil producer - but many of its people remain poor. The tiny nation is also considered to be among the continent's worst violators of human rights.

(source: Daily Mail)
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