Page last updated at 17:15 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 18:15 UK

Profile: Simon Mann

Simon Mann in prison in Harare
Mann had claimed deportation was tantamount to a death sentence
Simon Mann, a former British commando, businessman, and one-time actor, has been jailed for more than 34 years for leading an attempt to oust Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Sixty-six other suspected mercenaries were arrested with Mann when their plane was impounded in the capital, Harare, in March 2004.

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

The 56-year-old 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

Born into privilege, Mann 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 princes and the political elite.

Eton 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 to become a commander.

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.

Arms and advice

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.

RUF rebels in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone rebels spent over a decade fighting the government

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 Michael Gove of 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".

Mr Gove argues 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.

Print Sponsor

Country profile: Equatorial Guinea
26 Jan 08 |  Country profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific