Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot

BBC News, UK
Aug 25 2004

Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot

Two trials have been taking place in Africa of suspected foreign
mercenaries accused of plotting a coup against the president of the
oil rich country of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

BBC News Online looks at what is known about the coup bid.

How was the plot discovered?

In March, Zimbabwean police in Harare impounded a plane which flew in
from South Africa with 64 alleged mercenaries on board.

Simon Mann (second right) was the alleged leader of the plotters
The group said they were providing security for a mine in Democratic
Republic of Congo, but a couple of days later an Equatorial Guinean
minister said they had detained 15 more men who were the advance
party for the group captured in Zimbabwe.

Nick du Toit, the leader of the group of South Africans and Armenians
in Equatorial Guinea, confirmed at his trial in Equatorial Guinea
this week that he was playing a limited role in the bid.

He told the court he was recruited by Simon Mann, the alleged leader
of the group held in Zimbabwe, and that he was helping with
recruitment, acquiring weapons and logistics for the attempt. He says
he was told they were trying to install an exiled opposition
politician, Severo Moto, as head.

Mr Mann has only admitted to breaking arms regulations in Zimbabwe.

Why organise a coup?

The former Spanish colony has been ruled by President Obiang since he
seized power himself from his uncle in a coup in 1979. His government
has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and of ruthlessly
suppressing political opposition.

Yet the discovery of oil several years ago has meant huge wealth and
massive investment flowing into this poor country of just 500,000

Not much of this has trickled down to ordinary people. The United
States Senate is currently investigating the discovery of millions of
dollars in US bank accounts belonging to the family of President

And it is these massive oil revenues which could lend some credence
to President Obiang’s accusation that multinationals and foreign
powers were involved in the plot.

Both trials have begun amid complaints of abuse and unfair treatment
from relatives of those being held.

One of the suspects, a German, died in prison in Equatorial Guinea
after what Amnesty International said was suspected torture.

So who is behind the plot?

So far it remains unclear who was backing the mercenaries on trial,
although the list of suspects is growing.

Sir Mark has denied any involvement
Simon Mann, the old Etonian and founder of the mercenary firm
Executive Outcomes, has not been talking, although President Obiang

He has accused the Spanish government and the son of the former UK
prime minister, Mark Thatcher, amongst others of being behind the

The South African authorities, who arrested Mark Thatcher on
Wednesday in Cape Town, now seem to believe he is involved, despite a
denial from his lawyer.

What is known is that Mark Thatcher has admitted to being a good
friend of Simon Mann.

Others, President Obiang alleges are involved, are a former British
cabinet minister, whom he refuses to name, an oil tycoon, Eli Calil,
and the exiled politician Severo Moto, who lives in Spain – both of
whom have strongly denied involvement.

The BBC’s Newsnight television programme saw the financial records of
Simon Mann’s companies showing large payments to Nick du Toit and
also some $2m coming in – though the source of this funding they say
is untraceable.

What is South Africa’s role?

Mercenary activities were banned in South Africa several years ago
after complaints about security organisations like Executive

The majority of the alleged mercenaries on trial in Zimbabwe and
Equatorial Guinea are based in South Africa, with many being former
members of the apartheid-era security forces.

South Africa will be determined to be seen to be acting tough against
any attempt to destabilise another country.

However, it also will want to protect its nationals, and has vowed to
intervene if any of the alleged mercenaries are sentenced to death.

Judgements in the two cases are expected be given within the next