Sunday, August 24, 2008
Obiang y un golpe fallido. Mark Thatcher, Frederick Forsyth, Simon Mann
A group of mercenaries' failed attempt to take over the worst place on earth.
By the time [Macias] Nguema was deposed in 1979, a third of the country's population-around half-a-million at independence-had been killed and another third had fled the country. Macías Nguema was removed in a bloody coup by his nephew, Obiang Nguema. Obiang had served in his uncle's government and was complicit in many of his crimes. In power he has hardly shown himself averse to violence, torture, and corruption-there are allegations that he, too, is a cannibal and ate the liver of a political opponent in 1993.
Simon Mann (1952-) does not have the typical mercenary's pedigree. His father was the captain of England's national cricket team and heir to the Watney Mann brewing fortune. Educated at Eton, Mann attended Sandhurst, took a commission in the Scots Guards, and eventually served in Britain's elite Special Air Service (SAS).
Mann followed up his military career with a series of failed business ventures and a brief return to active duty during the Gulf war. Soon after, he became one of the principals in a private military company, Executive Outcomes. Clients included Texaco and De Beers, but the company wasn't exactly discriminating. It was, however, effective. In the early 1990s, working on behalf of major oil companies and the Angolan government, Executive Outcomes reclaimed oil facilities seized by rebels in military operations of an unprecedented size for a private army.
In 1996, Mann created a subsidiary called Sandline and recruited a former lieutenant-colonel of the Scots Guards, Tim Spicer, to run it. While the point of the subsidiary was to distance itself from the shady reputation Executive Outcomes had acquired, Mann and Spicer set about doing their best to tarnish the new name. In 1997, Sandline received $36 million from the government of Papua New Guinea to end a revolt in Bougainville. News of the deal caused the army to revolt and forced the prime minister to resign. Spicer was arrested as soon as Sandline forces attempted to enter the country. His release was secured only after the British government intervened.
By the next year, Sandline was embroiled in a much bigger scandal, accused of violating a U.N. arms embargo in Sierra Leone on behalf of an Indian client himself accused of embezzling millions from a Thai bank. Still, Sandline operated in one form or another until 2004. That was the year Mann was arrested for masterminding an attempt to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.
On March 7, 2004, Simon Mann and 67 South African mercenaries were arrested on board a Boeing 727 at an airport in Harare, Zimbabwe, en route to Equatorial Guinea. Mann was accused of trying to purchase a large shipment of weapons during their brief stopover in Zimbabwe. Already on board were hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of weapons and equipment, as well as $180,000 in cash.
The next day, a South African named Nick du Toit and 14 mercenaries were arrested as part of the advance team inside Equatorial Guinea. They were lying in wait, ready to seize the airport tower in Malabo and otherwise lay the groundwork for Mann's planeload of soldiers to take over the country.
While these events raised eyebrows internationally, what really caught the attention of the world's press came four months later when the South African police raided the home of one of Simon Mann's Cape Town neighbors-Mark Thatcher, son of the former British prime minister. (Bizarrely enough, Obiang's playboy son, Teodorin, also has a house in the same posh suburb, Constantia). Thatcher, who has amassed a sizable personal fortune in various businesses, has a checkered past involving accusations of loan sharking, Saudi bribes, and tax evasion.