Equa-Guinea prosecutor accuses Armenian flight crew over coup

Agence France Presse — English
August 26, 2004 Thursday 3:28 PM GMT

Equa-Guinea prosecutor accuses Armenian flight crew over coup


Equatorial Guinea’s attorney general said Thursday he was surprised
at the protestations of innocence by the crew of a cargo plane
accused of helping to plot a coup, saying the sole reason they were
in the central African country was “to wait for mercenaries.”

The six Armenian crew members, including captain Ashot Kerapetyan,
told the court earlier that they were unaware on what charges they
were being held until a few days before hearings into the alleged bid
to oust long-time Equato-Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema
began on Monday.

Samuel Darbinyan, 41, a co-pilot of the aircraft leased by a company
belonging to Gerhard Eugen Merz of Germany — one of 15 alleged
mercenaries arrested in March and accused of fomenting a putsch —
said he did not know why he had been held in Malabo’s notorious Black
Beach prison since March along with five other crew members and eight
South Africans.

Merz, who was arrested along with the others, died in detention,
officially of cerebral malaria, but with rights groups saying he was
tortured to death.

But after listening to their testimony, Attorney General Jose Olo
Obono said the crew’s ignorance surprised him.

He hurled the accusation at them: “It is quite clear that your
mission here was to wait for the mercenaries’ action.”

The Armenians arrived in Equatorial Guinea in January this year.
Their Antonov-12 aircraft was hired the following month by Nick du
Toit, the South African former soldier turned businessman who risks
the death penalty for allegedly leading the botched coup plot.

>From the time they arrived in the tiny central African country, the
Armenians flew out of Equatorial Guinea once on board the Antonov,
bound for Democratic Republic of Congo where they were to deliver
cargo picked up at N’Dola in Zambia, they told the court.

Merz had given them the instructions for that trip, they said in
separate testimonies.

The flight crew said the shipment was never delivered to DRC because
the airport they were bound for there was closed. They said they
returned to Malabo with nothing in the hold.

Du Toit told the court Monday that the Antonov was to have picked up
ammunition for security agents at mines in DRC. The crew members said
they were unaware of what their payload was to have been.

The Armenians are on trial alongside eight South Africans and four
Equato-Guineans, all accused of complicity in a plot to topple
Obiang, who has been in power since 1979.

Obiang announced their arrests on March 9, saying: “A group of
mercenaries entered the country and was studying plans to carry out a
coup d’etat.”

Without going into details, Obiang said interrogation of the suspects
revealed they were financed by multinational companies and “countries
that do not like us.”

The arrests came days before some 70 men were detained when their
plane stopped off in Zimbabwe, allegedly en route to Equatorial
Guinea for the coup.

The group arrested in Zimbabwe has consistently said it was on its
way to DRC to protect diamond mines.

A Zimbabwe magistrate is expected to hand down verdicts on Friday
when the trial resumes of the suspected mercenaries held in Harare.

They are led by Briton Simon Mann, a close friend of the son of
British former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Mark Thatcher, who
was arrested Wednesday in South Africa and accused of involvement in
the increasingly complex alleged coup plot.

Du Toit is so far the only one of the 18 defendants on trial in
Equatorial Guinea to admit any involvement in a coup plot.

On Wednesday he told the Malabo court that he had been in contact
with Thatcher in July last year, but strictly for business purposes.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress