The Zim 70’s Looming Trial

The trial of the Zimbabwe 70 has been due to start for a while now, but the latest word is that it will be delayed until Tuesday. Rumor has it that plea-bargain negotiations for some of the mercenaries are causing the delay, something that both the prosecution and the defense deny. A recent Guardian article somewhat breathlessly asserts that Simon Mann, the leader of the operation, is appealing to his contacts in the British government for intervention. If there really does turn out to be a plea bargain, speculation can begin about whether it came as the result of some backroom dealing.

Far more interesting, though, are the excerpts from a reputed letter from Mann to his wife that was smuggled out of his cell. In it he refers to Ely Calil, a British-based Lebanese businessman, oil millionaire, and senior executive of Logo Logistics, the company that owned the plane that was captured in Harare:

Mann said that he met Calil . . . in London and spoke about the situation in Equatorial Guinea. Calil offered to introduce him to Severo Moto, the exiled opposition leader who wanted to overthrow President Obiang.

‘I met Severo Moto in Madrid. He is a good and honest man,’ writes Mann. ‘He had studied for [the] priesthood but left the studies. He did so in order to better help his people. At this stage they asked me if I could help escort Severo Moto home at a given moment when simultaneously there would be an uprising of both military and civilians against Obiang.

What strikes me about this section is that it’s the first explanation for the situation that isn’t completely daffy. Mann’s official claim that they were only going to provide mine security in DR Congo has always been ridiculous on its face. But, as many news reports have noted, it seems incredibly (and uncharacteristically) naive for these guys to have assumed they could roll in there and just overthrow a government. But the letter, assuming it’s for real, points to another possibility: Mann & Co. were hired to provide security for Severo Moto while a coordinated uprising actually did the work of overthrowing Obiang’s government. This seems like a much more sensible mission for a band of mercenaries; there hasn’t been any such uprising, of course, but it could have been called off once the plane was detained. Obiang’s subsequent brutal crackdown certainly fits with this theory as well.

Related tidbits: Equatorial Guinea has also been in the news lately in connection with Riggs Bank, which is coming under fire for embracing the money of the worst sorts of dictators. As Kathryn Cramer has noted, Sandline International, the PMC founded by Mann after Executive Outcomes, closed its doors and ceased to exist on April 16, a month after he and his team were taken into custody. This article (which Kathryn also comments on) looks at the South African government’s efforts to curtail mercenary activity in general. They have laws against the sort of thing Mann’s team was trying to do, but are also (unsuccessfully) trying to discourage South Africans from flocking to Iraq for private security gigs. Convention wisdom among the families of the captured mercenaries is that South Africa will leave them high and dry in order to set an example for future prospective mercenaries. Whether anyone’s going to come to their aid at all is a question that will have to wait until Tuesday at the earliest.