Briton convicted in Zimbabwe ‘coup plot’ case.

A British private security executive accused of plotting a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea was on Friday convicted on weapons charges by a court in Zimbabwe.

Simon Mann, a former SAS member and founder of the private security company, Executive Outcomes, has been in Harare's maximum security Chikurubi prison since March. He could face 10 more years in prison when the court begins sentencing on September 10.

However, the court cleared most of Mr Mann's 69 co- defendants. “There was no clear evidence to connect accused persons to the purchase of firearms,” Reuters quoted Harare magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe saying. “In fact the state conceded there was no direct evidence connecting them.”

Relatives and some of the defendants cheered the “not guilty” verdict. Zimbabwe restricts accreditation of foreign journalists, and few reporters were in the court to cover the trial.

Mr Mann and the other men, mostly South Africans, were arrested when their plane landed in Zimbabwe. Prosecutors say the group planned to join other conspirators arrested in Equatorial Guinea, but lawyers for the men say they were on their way to provide security at mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The acquitted men still face prosecution on less serious immigration and aviation charges. Unlike neighbouring South Africa, Zimbabwe has no law prohibiting the support of foreign mercenary activities.

This week saw the beginning of trial proceedings for another 14 supposed foreign coup plotters arrested in Equatorial Guinea. Nick du Toit, their leader, told a court in the capital Malabo that he had been hired by Mr Mann to give logistical support to the alleged coup.

Mr du Toit, a South African, formerly worked with Mr Mann at Executive Outcomes. Prosecutors in Malabo claim that Severo Moto, an exiled opposition leader, offered the conspirators money and oil rights to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasongo.

Separately, South African police this week arrested Mark Thatcher, a Cape Town neighbour of Mr Mann, and released him on bail after charging him with violating its law on foreign military assistance. Police claim that Sir Mark, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, provided more than $270,000 for the alleged conspiracy.

Sir Mark says he was acquainted with Mr Mann, who lives near him in the Cape Town suburb of Constantia, but is innocent of the charges. He is due to appear in court on November 25.

South Africa said on Friday Equatorial Guinea had made no move to seek the extradition of Sir Mark. “There has not been any official request from the government of Equatorial Guinea for the extradition,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Asked about any informal contact between the governments, he said: “There has been nothing.”

[Source: By John Reed in Johannesburg, Financial Times, London, UK, 27Aug04]

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