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Despite the obvious corruption, the United Statesnow considers the brutal backwater to be of major stra-tegic importance, given the turmoil in world oil marketsand the fact that China is taking an active interest in theregion. In 2006, two months after Equatorial Guineasigned a major oil contract with the China National Off-shore Oil Company, Obiang Nguema made an ofﬁcialvisit to Washington. Secretary of State Condoleezza Ricecalled Obiang a “good friend.”And if you thought the small country’s historycouldn’t get any more tragicomic, Equatorial Guinea wasrecently host to one of the most bizarre trials in recentmemory. At issue is what role the governments of theUnited States, Spain, South Africa, and the United King-dom played in the failed attempt by a marauding bandof British and South African mercenaries to overthrowObiang’s government.
lack Beach prison in Malabo is one of the country’sfew notable addresses. It was Macías Nguema’s pre-ferred execution spot and has housed two genera-tions of political prisoners in near starvation conditions.Black Beach is currently playing host to the most illustri-ous prisoner in its history. He also happens to be guilty of the crimes he was accused of committing.Simon Mann (1952–) does not have the typical merce-nary’s pedigree. His father was the captain of England’snational cricket team and heir to the Watney Mann brew-ing fortune. Educated at Eton, Mann attended Sandhurst,took a commission in the Scots Guards, and eventuallyserved 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 dutyduring the Gulf war. Soon after, he became one of the prin-cipals in a private military company, Executive Outcomes.Clients included Texaco and De Beers, but the companywasn’t exactly discriminating. It was, however, effective.In the early 1990s, working on behalf of major oil compa-nies and the Angolan government, Executive Outcomesreclaimed oil facilities seized by rebels in military opera-tions of an unprecedented size for a private army.In 1996, Mann created a subsidiary called Sandline andrecruited a former lieutenant-colonel of the Scots Guards,Tim Spicer, to run it. While the point of the subsidiarywas to distance itself from the shady reputation Execu-tive Outcomes had acquired, Mann and Spicer set aboutdoing their best to tarnish the new name. In 1997, Sand-line received $36 million from the government of PapuaNew Guinea to end a revolt in Bougainville. News of thedeal caused the army to revolt and forced the prime minis-ter to resign. Spicer was arrested as soon as Sandline forcesattempted to enter the country. His release was securedonly after the British government intervened.By the next year, Sandline was embroiled in a muchbigger scandal, accused of violating a U.N. arms embargo inSierra Leone on behalf of an Indian client himself accusedof embezzling millions from a Thai bank. Still, Sandlineoperated in one form or another until 2004. That was theyear Mann was arrested for masterminding an attempt tooverthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.On March 7, 2004, Simon Mann and 67 South Africanmercenaries were arrested on board a Boeing 727 at an air-port 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. Alreadyon 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 and14 mercenaries were arrested as part of the advance teaminside Equatorial Guinea. They were lying in wait, readyto seize the airport tower in Malabo and otherwise lay thegroundwork for Mann’s planeload of soldiers to take overthe country.While these events raised eyebrows internationally,what really caught the attention of the world’s press camefour months later when the South African police raidedthe home of one of Simon Mann’s Cape Town neigh-bors—Mark Thatcher, son of the former British primeminister. (Bizarrely enough, Obiang’s playboy son, Teodo-rin, also has a house in the same posh suburb, Constantia).Thatcher, who has amassed a sizable personal fortune invarious businesses, has a checkered past involving accusa-tions of loan sharking, Saudi bribes, and tax evasion.Investigators had discovered a number of suspiciousmoney transfers to Logo Logistics, a ﬁrm owned by Mann,just prior to the coup attempt. Investigators think thatThatcher contributed about $275,000 for the purpose of chartering a helicopter to be used in the coup. Thatchermaintained that he didn’t know the funds were to be usedfor the coup attempt, but eventually struck a deal and paida $500,000 ﬁne to the South African government, whichhas strict laws curbing mercenary activity.Ely Calil, a Lebanese-Nigerian financier—underinvestigation at the time by the French government forshady oil dealings in Nigeria—also allegedly helped fundthe plot. Calil is friendly with an Equatorial Guineanpriest named Severo Moto who is in exile in Spain. Theplotters had planned to install him as the country’s newruler. In the 1990s, Moto had tried his own hand at over-throwing Obiang. He was arrested by Angolan authori-ties on a Russian ﬁshing trawler full of arms and soldiersheaded for his native country. After ﬂeeing to Spain, hewas convicted of high treason in Equatorial Guinea and