The Dogs of War - Equatorial Guinea Edition
Cross-posted from The Global Sociology Blog.
It is a story that has made headlines in the UK because it involves some high-level British players, via The Guardian:
"The British mercenary Simon Mann was today sentenced to 34 years in prison for plotting to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.
The Eton-educated former SAS officer was sentenced after a trial last month during which it was claimed that a number of western governments knew about the coup plans. The court heard that Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of the former British prime minister, was a committed member of the group.
Mann was arrested in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 2004 with dozens of mercenaries when their private plane landed. He acknowledged knowingly taking part in the attempt to topple the government, but his lawyer argued Mann was a secondary player.
The sentence is longer than expected."
IF everything had gone according to plan, the conspirators - which included South African notorious mercenary Nick du Toit - had even hired a filmmaker to preserve the images for the global media propaganda coup and for posterity. The filmmaker, James Brabazon, a friend of du Toit, provides a fascinating and detailed account of the plot and how it all came apart in the Independent (mostly because the entire operation was infiltrated by the South African secret services):
"He promised me a place on the operation, and another scoop – on one condition.
If the exiled president's new government was to gain international recognition, the coup would have to look like a heroic local uprising. Nick was going to recruit black African troops for the operation, led by a small vanguard of notorious white mercenaries. I would be flown in ahead of time, to be on the ground before the main contingent landed, where, he informed me, my job would be to film the arrival of the new president, flanked by black mercenaries, in such as way as to make them look like rebellious local soldiers – and not the remnants of an apartheid-era Special Forces unit. This footage – the only television pictures that would exist – would be released to the world's media, buying the new regime time while it took over the institutions of state. In return, I would have exclusive access to film every aspect of the coup for my documentary that I could release once Nick had been paid by the new president.
He was asking me a favour, and offering me an opportunity. After the months we had spent together, he had learnt as much about me and my profession as I had about him and his. He understood that a war reporter is as opportunistic as a mercenary, which is why we'd become friends. I needed a war; Nick needed a war. I protected us with the quest for truth my cameras represented; Nick protected us with an assault rifle. And now he was offering me the chance to direct the movie of his own private war – an opportunity that, on the face of it, no sane journalist could refuse.
More than just an opportunity as a journalist, he wanted to co-opt me as a conspirator, making me a propagandist, the Leni Riefenstahl of what he called his "African adventure". It didn't matter how I phrased it to myself; one of my best mates had just asked me to help him conspire in robbery with violence, which would involve tacitly agreeing to murder. At the very least, the soldiers guarding the airport control tower were likely to be shot. Simply put, he was planning a spectacular bank job and wanted to cut me in."
Mann was initially arrested in Zimbabwe for illegal weapon trading and sentenced to seven years. The deal between the two countries Zimbabwe spared him the death penalty as it was taken off the table as part of the extradition agreement with Equatorial Guinea. Other participants were sentenced to shorter terms.
Oh, and Mann was also sentenced to pay $24 million in compensation to Equatorial Guinea. Mann's defense: he had permission to do it and several Western governments were involved... along with high level Guinean officials:
"He claimed that Spain and South Africa, with the endorsement of the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, had supported the plot. By January 2004, two months before the attempted coup was put into action, it was, Mann said, "like an official operation. The governments of Spain and South Africa were giving the green light: 'You've got to go, you've got to do it.'"
Senior members of the Equatorial Guinea army, police and cabinet were also implicated, Mann said, and he was given details of President Teodoro Obiang's daily movements and his health problems. From the Pentagon in Washington, and from the CIA and the big US oil companies, came tacit approval for regime change, according to Mann.
Thatcher "was not just an investor, he came completely on board and became a part of the management team", Mann claimed during his trial."
Mark Thatcher was convicted in South Africa where he pleaded guilty to lesser charges (his money bought the plane that was supposed to fly in the new president from his exile in Spain, Equatorial Guinea's former colonizer) and received a suspended sentence and a low fine.
What is the back story here? Why would anyone be interested in this small African country (the size of Maryland and with half a million citizens)?What does Equatorial Guinea has that Western governments and Lebanese businessmen are interested in? Oil, of course. It is the third largest African oil producer. But because of the political regime, most people in the country live in poverty and human rights violations are commonplace. This is the context in which a group of people came together to plot a coup and overthrow the regime, with the goal of installing an exiled leader in power.
And still according to the Guardian, Mann is not just a mercenary in this case:
"Mann accepted he was doing the job for money – said to be $15m - but he claimed he was sympathetic to the story he was told that oil money was not reaching the people. "I believed it was right.""
Oh, and of course, he is the fall guy here, according to his attorney. He is only a pawn. But apparently, the court did not buy his apology.
And because Equatorial Guinea is not a model of democratic rule, Mann's attorney are suggesting foul play in the judicial proceedings, as stated in the Independent:
"Immediately after the hearing one of the defence lawyers, Fabian Nguema, maintained that Mann had been entrapped into pleading guilty after believing false pledges made by the prosecution in a deeply flawed judicial process.
In surprisingly outspoken comments in a totalitarian state whose ruler, Teodoro Obiang Nguema (no relation) takes a dim view of criticism, Mr Nguema said: "They will promise nothing will happen to you, the President is going to pardon you and so on. They can say to a foreigner, 'here is an airline ticket you can go if you tell us everything'. Was Mann cheated into telling the truth? We know that's what happened. This is different from Zimbabwe, even in Zimbabwe the judges can sometimes come up with a verdict against the government.""
It does say something when one's judicial system compares UNfavorably with Zimbabwe's.
And of course, all the named foreign governments have denied any involvement in this plot.
So who was involved then? The Guardian has the rundown of the three main participants:
"Twenty years ago, when Mark Thatcher asked Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, how he could help his mother, the blunt Yorkshireman is said to have replied: "Leave the country." He did, for South Africa and then for Spain, and has been in and out of deep water ever since.
In 2005, Thatcher, 54, was fined 3m rand (£266,000), given a suspended four-year jail term and obliged to leave South Africa after admitting that he had "unwittingly" aided the coup plotters in Equatorial Guinea, offering to provide them with an aircraft without asking what it was to be used for."
His current residence is unknown (although he is suspected to be in Spain which has no extradition treaty with Equatorial Guinea) as he is very afraid of being taken to Equatorial Guinea to be trialed alongside Mann (the President has made no secret that this is something he wants, even if it means using rendition, like the US does).
"The oil tycoon goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure nobody can put a face to the name: he is rarely captured on camera and his movements are a closely guarded secret. When the whereabouts of his home in Chelsea became known to the media, he promptly moved.
Born in Kano, Nigeria, in December 1945, the son of a wealthy Lebanese groundnut producer, Calil inherited around £20m at the age of 22. He is said to have invested some of the money in a battery manufacturing business and also bought and sold trucks before realising there were fabulous riches to made from trading in Nigerian oil. Today he is said to be worth around £100m.
Calil has been married three times and has five children. His eldest, George, is an actor and was a star in the BBC soap Holby City. He divides his time between homes in Britain and Nigeria, where he has remained in favour with a succession of leaders.
Had the coup succeeded, it is alleged, another of his friends would have become the president of Equatorial Guinea."
"Life has gone from bad to worse for Severo Moto since the failure of the coup attempt that was supposed to have installed him in the presidential palace in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.
In 2005, he claimed that hitmen tried to kill him in Croatia. A few months later, the Spanish government temporarily lifted his political asylum. Two months ago he was arrested in Toledo and accused of arms trafficking.
He denied having anything to do with a car containing a Colt pistol, a Mauser rifle and some bullets that was about to be shipped to his homeland. According to court documents, however, intercepted telephone conversations indicated that Moto was aware of the shipment, and a judge has ordered that he be held in prison while awaiting trial. (...)
He has always denied any part in plots to overthrow the government of Teodoro Obiang, but other sources in Spain say he has been involved in numerous attempts down the years. Adolfo Marugan, the director of the Spain-based Association for Democratic Solidarity, said: "He tries to organise a coup every one or two years. He doesn't learn much from each coup plot, though, and the same people finance his attempts each time.""
Some people are just unlucky.
Simon Mann himself is a familiar name for anyone who has worked on private military companies - background on PMCs here - as he was involved with Executive Outcomes, the South African company, and, along with Tim Spicer, created another PMC: Sandline International. His involvement with both companies means that he had his hands in several peripheral countries in conflict: Angola, Sierra Leone or Papua New Guinea (with the suppression of the Bougainville uprising).
And what of Nick du Toit? He got 34 years as well. Whatever one thinks of mercenaries (and I certainly do not have any sympathy for this profession), no one deserves this:
"A man is hanging naked from the ceiling by a meat hook. His feet are bound, but his mouth is open – screaming a confession. He is surrounded by half a dozen soldiers in ragged uniforms whose fists are caked in his blood. Unsatisfied, they taunt him in a language he doesn't understand, as a rifle butt is thrust into his groin. His name is Nick du Toit. He is a South African mercenary, and one of my best friends.
In his final bout of punishment, the air fills with the bitter-sweet tang of roasting meat. It's his own flesh that's burning. Under the flames that spring from the soldiers' cigarette lighters, the fat on the soles of his feet spits and crackles. Opened wide by pain, his eyes gulp in the horror of the concrete cell he's strung up in. Men he has known for years dangle moaning, broken and bleeding. One old friend is already dead. He no longer knows, nor cares, what he is confessing to. After uncounted hours of torture, he is left to the mercy of the rats and the sea. The cell floods at high tide, nearly drowning him, encrusting his wounds with salt.
This is how, in 2004, Nick began his 34-year sentence in Black Beach Prison, Africa's most notorious gaol."