Sentences have been handed down in the trials of Simon Mann and his mercenary band at Chikurubi prison in Zimbabwe. The more we learn about their ill-fated plan to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, the more it seems like “bumbling mercenary band” would be the best way to describe them. It’s not clear whether they were actually set up at the Harare airport, but it is clear that their mission was a widely known secret in the mercenary community back in South Africa.
Their sentences — one year for most of them, sixteen months for the pilots, seven years for Mann himself — would seem rather light, except that they weren’t being charged for their intended actions, but on miscellaenous immigration and weapons violation charges. They all pled guilty, perhaps in expectation of a hefty fine and boot on the rear on their way out the door, so in that context the sentences — especially Mann’s — are rather severe. According to the BBC one British MP, Henry Bellingham, has called for his government to help get Mann out of jail.
As with everything else in this crazy affair, I’m not sure what to think about the sentences. Privately funded coups-d’etats are not a trend I’m crazy about seeing increase, but this particular operation was so inept that it’s hard to see these guys as being actually dangerous. So we’re back to the principle of the thing, but when you set that against other principles like “getting a fair trial,” it’s still hard to know what should have happened. All in all — with apologies to the mercenaries’ wives — it seems like a pretty good outcome. They didn’t get shipped off to EG for a show trial, and they obviously didn’t run afoul of what the Zimbabwean government would have liked to do to them if South Africa hadn’t been watching over their shoulder. But they didn’t walk away with a hand slap either. Mann’s the one who they really stuck it to, but, as the Guardian notes, his connections mean that there’s likely to be some backroom dealing on his behalf once the whole affair has settled beneath the news radar again.
The fun task of sorting out who funded the coup attempt remains, and Mark Thatcher — currently out on bail in South Africa — will be a central figure in that drama. The rumor mill gives us something called the “wonga list,” apparently a list of coup funders held by (and it doesn’t get any more specific than this) “one of those involved.” The most prominent name on it besides Thatcher is Ely Calil, a Britain-based Lebanese businessman whose name as been associated with the coup from the beginning. He’s currently being sued by Equatorial Guinea, and possibly planning a countersuit. The juicy details, unfortunately, are for the moment limited to those in the know and those with a subscription to Africa Confidential, and I am neither. Alas.
Let’s play Fanciful Connect the Dots! The Guardian reports that Mann’s contribution to the operation was raised “against shares he owned in diamond concessions.” And he founded Executive Outcomes, which was active in Sierra Leone, home of the blood diamond trade. So what if Mann had blood diamond connections, which put him in touch with Al Qaeda on his end, and then elsewhere on the wonga list there turns out to be (as Kathryn Cramer) some Texas oilman who happens to be a big financial backer of Bush. It’d be a bit of a stretch, but we’d have a Bush Administration-Al Qaeda connection!
Aw, but we’ve been there, done that. If it’s connect-the-dots level BA-AQ connections we want, we already have Victor Bout — and that doesn’t even involve any idle speculation!