Belfast Telegraph

South African arms dealer faces death over failed coup

By Jason Bennetto
30 August 2004

A South African arms dealer held in Equatorial Guinea for his part in an alleged plot to overthrow the President of the oil-rich state will learn today if he is to be executed.

In an interview published yesterday, Nick du Toit claimed he had talked with Sir Mark Thatcher about buying two military helicopters.

Baroness Thatcher's son and other Britons are accused of plotting with mercenaries and arms dealers to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea in March. They are accused of planning to install an opposition figure, now in exile in Spain, in his place, according to the government and Mr Du Toit. Sir Mark was charged last week in South Africa with financing the enterprise.

Mr Du Toit, speaking from prison in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, told The Mail on Sunday he was introduced to Sir Mark by Simon Mann, another arms dealer. Mann, a former SAS officer, was convicted in Zimbabwe last week of attempting to buy arms for the coup. The former Etonian pleaded guilty to trying to obtain weapons.

"I met him [Sir Mark] about four times over the past seven years. The arms dealer world is small and we all know each other. Simon told me he was one of us.

"I had talks with Thatcher about 18 months ago when he wanted to buy two military helicopters for the logistic support for a gold mine he said he owns in Sudan. I had helicopters under repair in Zambia and invited them to go there and inspect them. In the end, we didn't do a deal ­ that often happens in my business ­ but Thatcher talked to me at length about arms and protection practices in Africa."

Mr Du Toit said he never discussed the coup plot with Sir Mark, but admitted he had met others at Johannesburg airport in South Africa last July, the same time as the overthrow plan was being discussed.

Mr Du Toit, a former member of South Africa's special forces, said his role in the plot would have been to set up roadblocks and enable the main body of mercenaries to get to the presidential palace. His reward, he said, was to be $1m (£560,000) and a job as head of the newly installed presidential guard

But he said he received a call from Mann telling him the coup was off while he was stationed with his men in vehicles at Malabo airport waiting for weapons to arrive. The day after the coup was cancelled, President Obiang arrested all foreigners and confiscated their passports.

Mr Du Toit is among 14 men currently on trial in Malabo for the attempted coup. "We've been abandoned by all the big players behind the coup plot," he said.

"I've worked on missions before on a need to know where all the funds have come from or who is involved. But there's always an understanding that if trouble happens they will find lawyers and other help. We're in terrible trouble and that help isn't coming," he said.

President Obiang, the ruler of a tiny country that is also one of the largest African producers of oil, said his judges would decide the plotters' fate. "But if I were to be the judge, I would apply the maximum penalty ­ execution by firing squad," he said.

The Equatorial Guinea prosecutors have asked South Africa for permission to question Sir Mark, who denies any part in the alleged conspiracy. He has been released on 2m rand (£165,000) bail and has been banned from leaving Cape Town.

Sixty-six men arrested with Mann during the alleged coup plot were freed after magistrates in Harare decided the prosecution had failed to prove they had knowingly taken part in a military mission. Two of those men, Harry Carlse and Lourens Horn, now claim they were tortured in prison. Horn said he was stripped naked, beaten and threatened with electrocution during his interrogation. Both claimed they were ill-fed and denied water.

Source: Independent

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