Well, the trial of Simon Mann over his involvement in the planned coup in Equatorial Guinea is off the blocks at last…
The judge opened with the reading of a police report setting out the well-rehearsed allegations: Mann had conspired with the London-based Lebanese businessman Ely Calil and the exiled politician Severo Motto to mount an armed coup with South African mercenaries that would not have ruled out killing the president. In return, Mann would have received £15m. There was a contract in evidence.
Then it was the turn of the attorney general, Jose Olo Obono, who outlined the prosecution case and read out the charges: crimes against the head of state, against the form of government and against the peace and independence of the republic.
He said Mann’s first lawyer, who was suspended from the case last week, was to be prosecuted for insulting Obiang. This was a reference to the fact that he had wanted to argue that Mann’s extradition from Zimbabwe in February this year was illegal.
Obono compared Mann with the terrorists who attacked New York, Madrid and London. They were, he said, “a threat to humanity that must be wiped out”.
The attorney general also claimed the main conspirators included Calil, Mark Thatcher, the British businessmen Greg Wales and David Tremain and Nigel Morgan, a former intelligence officer with the Irish Guards now living in South Africa. Calil had put in $2m (£1m).
Obono told the court for the first time that the Lebanese defendant, a Malabo resident called Mohammed Salam, had known about the plot but failed to tell the authorities.
The court was told the six local men were opposition members of Motto’s party who had been in touch with Motto by email. Each of the 70 mercenaries would have received £3,000. For the first two charges against Mann he asked for 14 years and eight months and two years and four months on the third.
The defence lawyers were about to present their opening speeches when the judge dropped another bombshell. He ordered a smartly dressed man who had been sitting with the diplomats to join the defendants.
He is a serving minister. Although evidence has yet to be adduced it is understood he knew of Calil’s investment in Equatorial Guinea as a precursor to the coup and failed to raise the alarm.
And so to Mann’s new lawyer, Jose Pablo Nvo, who in a short speech said his client was a “mere instrument” working for Calil and the coup could have gone ahead without him. It was, in effect, a guilty plea.
The hearing continues.