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Profile: Simon Mann

Simon Mann in prison in Harare
Mann had spent many years working in conflict zones

Simon Mann, a former British commando, businessman, and one-time actor, who was jailed for 34 years for leading a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, has been pardoned by the country's president.

It is the latest twist in a life marked by murky exploits and Boy's Own-style adventure.

Mann's pardon comes only a year-and-a-half into a sentence he received in July 2008 after he admitted conspiring to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The UK Foreign Office said it understood the release was a personal decision by the president on humanitarian grounds.

But that does not mean Mann is now welcome in Equatorial Guinea. An adviser to the president told BBC News that Mann must now leave the country within 24 hours.

'Manager, not architect'

The story behind Mann's conviction for attempting to overthrow an African government began when he and at least 60 other suspected mercenaries were arrested and their plane impounded in Zimbabwe in March 2004.

His lawyers claimed they had been on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help protect diamond mines.

Mann was jailed in Zimbabwe on arms charges the same year. He was released for good behaviour in May 2007 - and promptly rearrested.

In February 2008, he was extradited to oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, which has a poor human rights record.

A month later, he confessed to involvement in the coup plot. Speaking to Channel 4 News from the notorious Black Beach prison in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Mann said he had been the "manager, not the architect" of the plot.

Adventurer heir

But it is not the first time Mann has lived on the edge. Born into privilege, from an early age he was swept up by the pursuit of adventure.

As befits the son of an England cricket captain and the heir to a brewing fortune, he studied at Eton, the exclusive private school favoured by royalty and the political elite.

That was followed by Sandhurst, the prestigious military academy, and from there it was a natural progression to the Scots Guards, an army regiment associated with royalty and the upper class of British society.

Mann then joined the SAS, the Army's special forces unit, rising swiftly through the ranks.

After reportedly serving in Cyprus, Germany, central America and Northern Ireland, he left the military in 1981, returning to its ranks only briefly 10 years later to work for Britain's Gulf War commander, Gen Peter de la Billiere.

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During the 1980s, Mann sold computer security equipment and ran a business providing bodyguards to wealthy clients.

In the early 1990s, he set up Executive Outcomes, a security consultancy, with his associate Tony Buckingham.

Executive Outcomes developed a formidable reputation delivering advice - and armed guards - to protect businesses operating in conflict zones.

The company earned millions from Angola's government by guarding oil installations against rebel attacks.

In the mid-1990s, Mann entered a partnership with fellow former Scots Guardsman Tim Spicer.

'Logistical support'

They established another private security firm, Sandline International, which was soon being linked to the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Its role in the conflict remains open to speculation.

The firm is believed to have delivered "logistical support", including guns, to the country while it was under a UN arms embargo.

According to the Times newspaper, mercenaries working for Mann helped defeat the rebels led by Foday Sankoh and paved the way for "democratic rule".

'Dirty work'

Those who have known Simon Mann describe him as poker-faced, mysterious and secretive.

Yet he emerged into the limelight in 2002 to play a British officer in a film about the Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland.

The film's director, Paul Greengrass, spoke of him as a "humane man, but an adventurer... very English, a romantic, tremendously good company".

The Times argued that Mann's private security firms "have been scrupulous about operating in concert with Western policy goals while maintaining a discreet distance".

The Zimbabwean authorities had accused Western intelligence agencies of sending the men to do their dirty work.



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SEE ALSO
Mann sentenced for E Guinea plot
07 Jul 08 |  Africa
Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot
03 Nov 09 |  Africa
Mann changes his tune at trial
07 Jul 08 |  Africa
Profile: Simon Mann
07 Jul 08 |  UK
Country profile: Equatorial Guinea
14 Nov 11 |  Country profiles

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