Page last updated at 14:36 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot

Former British soldier Simon Mann has been pardoned by the president of Equatorial Guinea, a year after he was convicted of trying to oust the leader in a 2004 coup.

The murky plot was allegedly sanctioned by foreign governments, tycoons and even funded by the son of a former UK prime minister.

What was the aim of the plot?

One of the few things that seems certain about the plot is that it was an attempt to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, file image
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has ruled since 1979

The president has ruled since overthrowing his uncle in a coup in 1979.

Yet the discovery of oil several years ago has meant huge wealth and massive investment flowing into this poor country of about 670,000 people.

Not much of this has trickled down to ordinary people.

His government is regularly accused of brutality and rights abuses - it holds political prisoners and allegations of torture are rife.

Both Mann and his co-conspirators have been quoted as saying they were attempting to install exiled opposition leader Severo Moto in the place of Mr Obiang.

Mr Moto has denied involvement in the plot, but was found guilty in absentia by a court in Equatorial Guinea.

Separately, he was jailed in Spain for trying to send weapons to his home country last year.

How was the plot uncovered?

In March 2004 police in Zimbabwe's capital Harare impounded a plane which had flown in from South Africa.

Mann and more than 60 others were arrested, amid suspicions they were mercenaries.

Simon Mann leaves a court set up at a maximum security prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. Photo: March 2004
Simon Mann was held in Zimbabwe in 2004

They said they were providing security for a mine in Democratic Republic of Congo.

But a couple of days later 15 men were detained in Equatorial Guinea - among them Nick du Toit, a South African business associate of Mann.

Officials in Equatorial Guinea said the du Toit group was an advance party for Mann's group.

Who was behind the plot?

Prosecutors painted Mann as the ringleader who organised mercenaries and arranged for weapons to be sent to Equatorial Guinea.

Sir Mark Thatcher. Photo: January 2006
Sir Mark Thatcher always denied knowledge of the plot

But he has sought to portray himself as a pawn of international businessmen who were trying to steal power.

The former Etonian said he had been the "manager, not the architect" of the plot.

He said both Spain and South Africa had "given the green light" to the coup, but both countries deny it.

He implicated Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former UK Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher.

And there was a string of tycoons and politicians linked with the financing of the plot.

He accused London-based oil billionaire Ely Calil of being the "boss" - claims Mr Calil strongly denies.

Later Mann said he had made statements implicating others only after days of torture.

What happened to the alleged plotters?

Mann was initially jailed in Zimbabwe, convicted of trying to buy weapons.

Map of Equatorial Guinea

At the end of his sentence he was extradited to Equatorial Guinea, where he was jailed for 34 years last year after admitting conspiring to oust the president.

He and several of his associates - including du Toit - were pardoned by the president after serving fractions of their sentences.

Sir Mark, who now lives in southern Spain, was fined $500,000 and received a suspended sentence in South Africa in 2005 for unknowingly helping to finance the plot.

Ely Calil is still wanted by the Equatorial Guinea authorities, though attempts by the government to sue him in the UK and other countries have come to nothing.

What is South Africa's role?

More than 60 South African citizens - most of them former Angolans who had fought alongside apartheid-era security forces in the Angolan civil war - were arrested in Zimbabwe in connection with the coup plot.

All served a year in jail in Zimbabwe, and eight suspected ringleaders were subsequently charged in South Africa under strict anti-mercenary laws.

Mercenary activities were banned in South Africa several years ago after complaints about security organisations like Executive Outcomes, which Mann helped set up.

Sir Mark was convicted under the country's anti-mercenary laws.

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