Mercenary sentenced to 34 years for Africa coup plot

A court in Equatorial Guinea Monday sentenced mercenary Simon Mann to over 30 years in prison for his role in failed 2004 coup in which the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was also implicated, dpa reported.

The BBC reported that a Malabo court handed Mann, a former British soldier, 34 years and four months in prison for plotting to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Co-accused Lebanese businessman Mohamed Salaam received 18 years while another four Equatorial Guinean nationals were given sentences of 6 years each.

The sentence was heavier than prosecutors demanded during the trial in June.

Some reports have suggested, however, that Mann, 56, may be pardoned after cooperating with the authorities and pointing the finger at his alleged co-conspirators.

Mann, who was extradited from Zimbabwe in January to face trial in the tiny, oil-rich West African nation, has admitted he was involved in the plot, but claims he was not the brains behind it.

During his trial, Mann said that Sir Mark Thatcher and London-based Lebanese millionaire Eli Calil were key organizers of the coup and that Spain and South Africa rubber-stamped it.

He also claimed that the United States gave tacit approval to the coup attempt.

Thatcher had agreed to provide a helicopter to transport opposition leader Severo Moto, then living in Spain, to Equatorial Guinea to take over from President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Mann claimed.

However, Thatcher, who was fined 500,000 dollars and given a four-year suspended sentence in South Africa in 2005 for his part in the coup, has said he thought he was providing a helicopter for an air ambulance company in West Africa.

Equatorial Guinea has issued arrest warrants for both Calil and Thatcher and said it would seek the extradition of the two men to face trial.

Mann, a former SAS officer and ex-pupil at Britain's prestigious Eton College, was arrested in Zimbabwe four years ago along with more than 60 others when they attempted to pick up a shipment of arms and served four years there before being extradited.

Many of Mann's co-conspirators are already serving jail sentences.

South African arms dealer Nick du Toit is amongst that group, although Amnesty International claimed that the trial convicting him was flawed.

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