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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August, 2004, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
E Guinea coup plot trial halted
Nick du Toit in court
The alleged mercenaries could face the death penalty
The trial of 19 men arrested in March on charges of attempting to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea has been suspended in the capital, Malabo.

The judge is to allow more time for investigations after Mark Thatcher's recent arrest in South Africa allegedly for helping finance the coup plot.

All but one of the men have denied involvement in the plot, and could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Under house arrest, Baroness Thatcher's son, Sir Mark, says he is innocent.

"The affair has an international dimension; there are inquiries outside the country that are beyond the remit of this tribunal," said presiding judge Salvador Ondo Nkumu.

Money

Sir Mark was arrested at his Cape Town home last week and released on a $300,000 bail bond but ordered to remain in South Africa ahead of a hearing in November.

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
The men are accused of plotting to overthrow President Obiang

He is accused of violating laws banning South African residents from taking part in foreign military action.

South African authorities are considering a request from Equatorial Guinea to question Sir Mark.

South African Nick du Toit, told the court last week that he was promised "a large amount of money" to lead the coup attempt.

But seven other South Africans, six Armenians and five suspects from Equatorial Guinea all deny knowledge of the coup attempt.

'Foreign financiers'

Prosecutors in Malabo have said the country's opposition leader, Severo Moto, offered the men $1.8m, together with oil rights to overthrow the government.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema alleges the coup plot was backed by foreign financiers seeking to control of the country's newly unearthed oil assets.

The president accused London-based Lebanese businessman Ely Calil as well as Mark Thatcher, the son or former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, of bankrolling the coup.

The two men's lawyers have denied these claims.


Former British SAS officer Simon Mann, the leader of a larger team of mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe connection with the coup plot, was found guilty on Friday of trying to procure weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

Sixty-seven other men, arrested in March, were released and fined for lesser offences against Zimbabwe's immigration laws.

Equatorial Guinea's president has said he would like to see all those involved in the plot shot by firing squad.

President Obiang himself came to power in a coup when he overthrew and executed his uncle in 1979.

He has been accused of human rights abuses and funnelling the country's oil wealth into his own bank accounts.


SEE ALSO:
'Mercenary leader' found guilty
27 Aug 04  |  Africa
Country profile: Equatorial Guinea
28 Feb 04  |  Country profiles



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