No Translator for 14 Suspected Mercenaries As Trial Opens

Africa News
August 23, 2004 Monday

Equatorial Guinea;
No Translator for 14 Suspected Mercenaries As Trial Opens

by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

Fourteen foreigners went on trial in the tiny oil-rich state of
Equatorial Guinea on Monday, charged with plotting a mercenary
invasion to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, a government
official in the capital Malabo said.

The eight South Africans and six Armenians were arrested in Malabo on
6 March. They were charged with conniving with 70 South African
mercenaries who were arrested 24 hours later in Zimbabwe as they were
allegedly on their way to Equatorial Guinea to mount an invasion.

An Amnesty International observer at the trial reported that all 14
were charged with conspiracy to overthrow Obiang, who has ruled the
former Spanish colony since he ousted his uncle, Macias Nguema, in a
coup 25 years ago.

In addition, Nick du Toit, a South African accused of leading the
advance group inside Equatorial Guinea, was accused of treason, the
observer said, according to Amnesty International spokesman George
Ngwa in London.

Ngwa noted that treason carried a mandatory death penalty in
Equatorial Guinea. However, President Obiang Nguema said in a radio
broadcast on Sunday that none of the accused would face execution.

Ngwa told IRIN that at Monday’s opening session of the trial, the
charges were read out to the accused in Spanish. There were no
translation facilities available and the accused were not invited to
plead. The proceedings were then suspended until later this week when
the prosecution was due to cross-examine the accused, he added.

The court was expected to provide translators at that stage, the
Amnesty spokesman said.

A senior official at the Ministry of Information in Malabo, contacted
by telephone from Libreville in neighbouring Gabon, told IRIN: “The
Interior Minister of Equatorial Guinea has said that the presumed
mercenaries were planning to kill the entire family of President
Teodoro Obiang Nguema.”

“The mercenaries on trial in Malabo are mainly accused of planning a
coup d’etat against the head of state and of the illegal possession
of arms and ammunition. They risk a prison term of five to 15 years
if convicted,” he added.

Ngwa said the Equatorial Guinean government had invited Amnesty to
send an observer to the trial, indicating at the time that it
expected the trial proceedings to take about two weeks.

One suspect dead

The authorities originally arrested 15 foreigners in connection with
the alleged mercenary invasion plot, but one of them, a German called
Gerhard Eugen Nershz, died a few days later.

The government said he died from an attack of cerebral malaria.
Amnesty International quoted eye witnesses who had seen the German’s
corpse as saying he was tortured to death.

Du Toit, the alleged leader of the mercenary group inside Equatorial
Guinea, is a former South African military officer who was once
closely connected to the now defunct South African security company
Executive Outcomes. The company supplied private guards to
multinational oil and mining companies and mercenary combatants to
several governments, including Angola and Sierra Leone.

The six Armenians on trial are the flight crew of an Antonov 12 cargo
plane belonging to the small company Tiga Air, which operated in
several countries in Central Africa.

The group of suspected mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe was detained
after their Boeing 727 jet landed in Harare on the night of 7 March
to take on arms and ammunition purchased from the Zimbabwe state arms

The group, all of whom held South African passports, were led by
former British army officer Simon Mann, who co-founded Executive
Outcomes in South Africa in the late 1980s.

Executive Outcomes was officially dissolved at the end of 1998 after
South Africa passed a law banning mercenaries from operating from its
soil, but the company’s former staff have resurfaced in several other
private military companies such as Sandline and Northbridge Services.

All those arrested in Harare said they were on their way to protect a
mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Zimbabwean government, which has announced plans to try them
locally, has accused the group of preparing to invade Equatorial
Guinea to overthrow Obiang. The president of Equatorial Guinea said
in an interview with the magazine Jeune Afrique Intelligent earlier
this month that he would not seek their extradition.

The government of Equatorial Guinea, has accused Severo Moto, an
opposition leader who heads a government-in-exile based in Madrid, of
being behind the mercenary invasion plan.

It claims that the plot was financed by Greg Wales, a London-based
businessman with previous links to Executive Outcomes, and Elie
Khalil, an international oil dealer of Lebanese origin, who has close
links with Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville and who has been
implicated in a bribes scandal involving the French oil company Elf.

Oil puts country on map

Equatorial Guinea consists of a square of jungle covered territory
wedged between Cameroon and Gabon on the African mainland, plus the
volcanic island of Bioko, 200 km to the northwest in the Gulf of
Guinea, where the capital Malabo is situated.

The country has been ruled by Obiang’s family since independence from
Spain in 1968, but until oil was discovered offshore in the early
1990s it was a largely forgotten backwater.

Now, however, Equatorial Guinea produces 350,000 barrels of oil per
day and is gearing up to become a major exporter of liquefied natural
gas. It is Africa’s third largest oil exporter after Nigeria and
Angola and is regarded as strategically important by the United
States, which has undertaken most of the investment in the local oil

Although the country now boasts one of the highest per capita incomes
in Africa as a result of its new-found oil wealth, very little of
this money has been spent on improving the living standards of its

Despite a per capita income of more than US $6,000 per year, which
puts the country in the same league as Malaysia or the Czech Republic
, Equatorial Guinea ranks 109th out of 177 on the United Nations
Human Development Index, behind Algeria and Cape Verde, which have a
per capita income of less than $2,000.

Obiang’s government has been widely criticised by western governments
and human rights organisations for rampant corruption and human
rights abuse. Suspected government opponents are frequently arrested
and held without trial and there have been numerous allegations of
torture and extrajudicial killings.

Last month, the US Senate published an investigation into Riggs Bank,
a Washington-based bank into which most of Equatorial Guinea’s oil
revenues were paid until recently. This showed that at least $35
million were siphoned off by Obiang, his family and senior officials
of his regime. The president has denied any wrongdoing.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress