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Dog of War Names Names

Guest David Guyatt

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Guest David Guyatt

If Mandy was the Minister involved with the coup, then Blair is also obviously implicated.

I do wonder if the planned coup was as much to do with Equatorial Guinea's diamond and gold region, Rio Muni as it was with their oil and gas deposits. If that were the case, then it would probably place De Beers behind the conspiracy, which in turn goes some way toward explaining why Mann says the coup plan was "hatched in London."



EXCLUSIVE: Judge rules jail interview with Dog of War Simon Mann, in which he names UK Ministers, can be broadcast

Dog of War Simon Mann to name ministers in Africa coup plot

By IAN GALLAGHER - More by this author »

Last updated at 13:29pm on 9th March 2008

Comments (19)

Channel 4 has won a legal battle to broadcast an interview with a mercenary in which he sensationally names British political figures, including Ministers, alleged to have given tacit approval to a plot to overthrow an oil-rich African state.

In testimony that could prove highly damaging to the Government, former SAS officer Simon Mann talks 'frankly' about the events leading to the botched attempt to topple Equatorial Guinea's president.

On Friday, Channel 4 dramatically overturned an injunction preventing it from transmitting the interview.

It is not clear exactly how much of the footage the broadcaster intends to screen, or when, but one source close to the case warned that "it will probably cause many people sleepless nights in the meantime".

The resolution of the extraordinary legal wrangle in the High Court in London last week served only to raise questions about why it was fought in the first place.

It was initiated by Anthony Kerman, a lawyer acting on the 'general instructions' of Mr Mann's wife Amanda, but not the former SAS man himself.

Among the key questions raised by the action is why Mrs Mann should seek to silence her husband, especially when naming names could well, as Equatorial Guinea has suggested, be his ticket to freedom.

And would it not be better to keep him at the forefront of the public conscience by allowing the broadcast, which shows him looking well?

The Mail on Sunday has obtained exclusive pictures taken during the interview, in which Mann appears fit, healthy and in good humour, laughing and joking with Channel 4 News's foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller.

The prison is clean and freshly painted, and although Mann is shackled and handcuffs, his jailers have taken care to wind cloth around his leg irons so the metal does not rub against his skin. They have also removed his shoelaces, for fear he could use them to hang himself.

Amanda Mann, wife of jailed mercenary Simon

It is understood Mrs Mann became aware of the Channel 4 interview only after it had taken place, when the broadcaster approached her for an interview. But she refused, and contacted Mr Kerman, who immediately began legal proceedings.

Mr Kerman is a close associate of Ely Calil, a Lebanese financier and oil trader with a £100million fortune, whom Mr Mann names in the interview as one of the men who funded the coup.

In turn, Mr Calil is linked to EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who was drawn into the murky affair when he was alleged to have privately met Mr Calil and another businessman accused of backing the coup, just weeks after it was thwarted.

It was Mr Calil who offered his West London flat to Mr Mandelson when the former Northern Ireland Secretary was embroiled in the scandal over an undisclosed loan from fellow Minister Geoffrey Robinson.

Mr Calil has consistently denied any involvement in the attempted coup and in November 2004 a spokesman for Peter Mandelson said: "Mr Mandelson categorically denies ever speaking to Mr Calil or to anybody else about the coup."

Mr Calil has also denied discussing it with Mr Mandelson.

Despite Friday's victory, Channel 4's legal battle may not yet be over, as it is understood that Mr Calil is seeking his own injunction against the interview.

Mr Justice Eady heard representations from his lawyers in the High Court last week – but told them he wanted to hear the Mann versus Channel 4 case first.

Britain and America are long thought to have known about the plot in advance. In 2004 Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, was forced to retract Foreign Office claims that the Government had no advance warning.

There is speculation that the claims made by Mr Mann may force Scotland Yard to revive its own inquiry into the affair, not least because it is widely thought the plot was hatched in London.

Mr Mann is also said to heavily implicate Sir Mark Thatcher in the plot, alleging his role extended much further than has previously been suggested.

Sources close to the case revealed last night that ITN had written to Sir Mark, asking him to comment on these claims but he is understood to have refused on the grounds that he had already made a full statement to the South African police and now regards the matter as closed.

A spokesman for Sir Mark said last night: "As we have not seen the programme, we cannot possibly comment."

Mr Mann was arrested in Zimbabwe in March 2004 when he and 68 South African and Angolan mercenaries arrived in Harare on a Boeing 727, allegedly en route to Equatorial Guinea. The aircraft was due to be loaded with £100,000 worth of arms.

Mann was convicted of breaching Zimbabwe's immigration laws and had served almost four years in jail before being deported to Equatorial Guinea, where he is being held in the notorious Black Beach prison. His wife has said he was effectively "kidnapped".

What is also puzzling about this increasingly complex affair is Mrs Mann's willingness to engage in a bizarre slanging match with the Equatorial Guinea government.

She has repeated unsubstantiated claims about President Teodoro Obiang Nguema threatening to "personally sodomise" her husband and skin him alive.

"It was like a dagger to my heart when I heard he was in Black Beach jail," said Mrs Mann. "One of the things that fills me with fear is that they will beat the living daylights out of him, that it could be happening as I speak, or that there will be one of those 'accidents' that happen in these places."

President Obiang has hit back through his ambassador to London, Agustin Nze Nfumu, pointing out that Mrs Mann has "never approached any Equatorial Guinea authorities...to request access to Simon Mann".

In an interview last month Mrs Mann explained why she has never been to visit her husband in prison.

She said: "I've never gone to Zimbabwe because Simon did not want me to. He did not want our love to be shattered by the emotional pain we would both suffer if I saw him in jail. And what if something happened to me in this unlawful country [Equatorial Guinea]? I have four children who need their mother."

It has further been claimed that Channel 4 has been 'used' by Equatorial Guinea.

Mr Mann's family say the former soldier, who has always denied involvement in the plot, has not made such claims about Mr Calil and others before, and could not have consented to the interview, although Channel 4 insists it was carried out "in accordance with his wishes".

Initially his family sought, and were granted, an injunction banning the broadcast. But their legal team "shifted its position" on Friday after Mr Mann's sister Sarah and brother Edward returned from Equatorial Guinea after visiting him in jail.

They are said to have brought back a letter from Mr Mann in which he asked for the interview – which was conducted two weeks ago – to be broadcast.

Mr Mann has always insisted he was only providing security for the diamond industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the time of his arrest. But he was sentenced to seven years' jail in Zimbabwe, reduced to four years for good behaviour.

He fought attempts by Equatorial Guinea to extradite him, but his appeal was rejected in January, on the eve of his release, and he was sent to Black Beach.

Last year, Mr Mann was reportedly offered a deal by the Equatorial Guinean government in which he would be allowed to go home if he named those behind the 2004 plot.

Mr Mann now faces a trial over the coup plot next week, during which government-appointed judges will almost certainly find him guilty. But the appointment of a local lawyer to his case last week brought fresh hope of his release – no matter what the outcome in court.

Attorney Ponciano Mbomio Nvo suggested the Equatorial Guinean president would face "international pressure" for Mr Mann's release. He added: "The President has said he has no interest in keeping Mr Mann after the judgment is made."

Channel 4 refused to make any comment after the injunction was lifted. But before the hearing, a spokesman said:

"We would not be intending to broadcast this interview if it were not in accordance with Mr Mann's wishes. This is responsible journalism on a matter of significant public interest."

Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher and an old friend of Mr Mann, was fined £265,000 and received a suspended four-year prison sentence in South Africa for helping finance the alleged coup.

But he escaped jail thanks to a plea bargain in which it was accepted that he "unwittingly" helped bankroll the attempt.

Sir Mark was a neighbour of the Manns in Constantia, an affluent suburb of Cape Town, to which the Manns moved in 1999, after Mr Mann had already established himself as a mercenary.

Along with British financier Tony Buckingham he had set up Executive Outcomes in 1993. Two years later – the same year that he married Amanda – he set up Sandline International with Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer.

It was an enterprise that supposedly made the men £5.6million shipping arms to Sierra Leone, in direct contravention of the UN embargo.

Simon's ventures also bought the Manns a Palladian mansion in Exbury, Southampton. Amanda already owned a flat on London's fashionable Portobello Road, Notting Hill – insurance, she once joked, "against a man letting me down".

Yet in the months, before the alleged coup attempt, Mann confided in a neighbour that, in spite of his fortunes, he did not feel that he had "enough money to live on". Or at least, perhaps, not in the style to which he and his wife had become accustomed.

During their time in South Africa, Mr Mann forged a close friendship with Mark Thatcher. Sir Mark positively "hero-worshipped" Mr Mann, according to his former wife Diane. He had always, she said, "been a bit of a soldier wannabe" himself.

At first the Thatchers believed that Mr Mann was "just a soldier" and that his tales of derring-do in Angola and with the SAS were things of the past.

"Then it came up in dinner conversation that he was a mercenary," Diane said. The seed for the future failed endeavour was planted.

While Mann has always denied that his presence in Zimbabwe in 2004 was part of an attempted coup, he has never presented any evidence to support his case.

At the same time, evidence against him and his team, in the form of documents and statements by participants have, insiders claim, revealed the whole plan in fine detail.

More intriguing, if less conclusive, is the evidence against the alleged financiers of the attempt to place exiled president Severo Moto back in charge of Equatorial Guinea. Which is where Ely Calil, friend of Mark Thatcher and a known supporter of Moto, returns to the picture.

Seemingly convinced of his role in the plot, Equatorial Guinea is already attempting to pursue Mr Calil through the courts for his substantial fortune.

Soon after Mr Mann's arrest South African police intercepted a letter to his wife which supposedly included a "Wonga list" naming Smelly (a nickname for Calil) and Scratcher (code for Mark Thatcher) among many other alleged financiers.

But immediately after the coup attempt, no police action was taken against the alleged plotters who remained in London.

Eventually an investigation was launched by the Anti Terrorist Branch but, with the 7/7 and 21/7 terrorist attacks on London, resources were pulled on to those investigations.

Inquiries were further hampered by problems obtaining documents held by South Africa, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea and Spain.

Should Mann now speak openly about his financial backers, it would be a compelling reason to restart the police investigation.

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