David Leppard, Sunday Times (London), June 8, 2008
AN AFRICAN dictator will hear from the House of Lords this month whether he can claim £15m damages for “severe emotional distress” from a Briton he is holding in prison.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea is seeking leave to press ahead with a legal claim against Simon Mann, the former SAS officer who led the infamous “wonga” coup attempt in 2004.
Lawyers close to the case say the law lords will make a landmark judgment about whether issues relating to the security of a foreign state can be ruled upon in a British court. Sir Sydney Kentridge QC, Nguema’s barrister, is arguing against earlier decisions by the Court of Appeal and the High Court to strike out the writ on legal grounds.
Mann was arrested with a group of 67 mercenaries when their aircraft landed at Harare’s main airport. They were allegedly planning to collect weapons bought from the Zimbabwean state arms company.
Mann was sentenced to four years in jail in Zimbabwe. After serving three, he was extradited in February to face trial in Equatorial Guinea, west Africa, for plotting to overthrow the regime “through violence and terror”.
The alleged plot to overthrow Nguema and replace him with Severo Moto, the exiled opposition leader, attracted worldwide attention, heightened when it emerged that Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former prime minister, was caught up in the affair.
Thatcher, a friend of Mann, later pleaded guilty in a South African court to unwittingly funding the coup attempt. He was given a suspended sentence.
The affair also embroiled Lord Archer, the novelist. Documents disclosed to Nguema’s legal team showed that just before the coup, a “J H Archer” had paid money into an account connected to Mann. Archer has repeatedly denied any link to the affair. This weekend his lawyer, Kevin Robinson, said: “[Archer] has never met Mann, and he has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the events under consideration in the prospective proceedings.” Archer has also denied involvement with the coup’s alleged mastermind, Ely Calil, a London-based millionaire. In a televised interview from prison three months ago, Mann named Calil as “architect” of the coup plot, forcing Calil to repeat his earlier denials of any role.
The most colourful character in the case is Nguema, who has been in power since 1979. State radio is reported to have declared him a “god” who “can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell”.
There is little doubt that the oil-rich state, which has a population of only 500,000, has an appalling human rights record. Prisoners are said to be routinely tortured.