Briton accused of plotting coup drops legal team

Simon Mann, the alleged mastermind behind a suspected mercenary plot foiled by Zimbabwe, has hired new lawyers to negotiate his release from a maximum security jail in Harare.

The former British officer has angered his co-accused by dropping the lawyers they share. One of them claimed yesterday that Mr Mann was pursuing a private deal with the Zimbabwe authorities which could result in his transfer to Britain and to freedom.

The move came close to next week's opening of their trial for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the oil-rich government of Equatorial Guinea, a plot which collapsed in March when the group landed at Harare airport for fuel and weapons, only to be arrested.

Mr Mann was detained with three crew members and 66 men, mostly former members of South Africa's defence forces, who claimed to be private security guards en route from South Africa to central Africa to protect mines.

It emerged yesterday that the former SAS captain had hired new lawyers in an apparent effort to distance himself from his co-accused.

"We are no longer representing him, that I can confirm," said Francois Joubert, a lawyer who will continue to represent the other 69 detainees.

Another of the original team, Alwyn Griebenow, told the South African Press Association that Mr Mann had broken with them over their attempt to force Pretoria to seek the defendants' extradition from Zimbabwe. "I have no proof," he said. "But I was told that Mann's legal team did not want to go ahead with the constitutional court case against the South African government." Mr Mann's team could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr Mann bought weapons and equipment from Zimbabwe Defence Industries, a state-run company with a history of shadowy dealings.

If it emerged in court that senior government officials had helped the plotters, it would sour Zimbabwe's propaganda triumph in foiling an alleged coup and upholding African solidarity.

[Source: Rory Carroll in Johannesburg, The Guardian, London, UK, 13jul04]

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