Equatorial Guinea has pardoned British mercenary Simon Mann for his role in a failed 2004 coup plot, allowing him to seek medical treatment after serving just over one year of a 34-year sentence.
The pardon by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo comes just weeks before a November 29 poll in which Obiang is expected to seek and win a new mandate to lead sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil producer, which he has governed since 1979.
“The pardon was allowed for by presidential decree and granted on humanitarian grounds,” the communication ministry said in a statement released on its website late yesterday, citing Mann’s need for medical care and to be with his family.
Mann had “shown sufficient and credible signs of repentance and a desire to take his place in society”, it said, adding that the former special forces officer had 24 hours to leave the tiny central African state and was banned from returning.
Obiang, who was due later today to host South African President Jacob Zuma for talks, also pardoned Nick du Toit, a South African former soldier jailed for 34 years in the same affair.
Eton-educated Mann was sentenced in July 2008 for conspiring to topple Obiang after being arrested by authorities in Zimbabwe four years earlier along with 70 other mercenaries en route to Equatorial Guinea aboard a plane.
One of the last of the prominent “dogs of war” still active in Africa, Mann portrayed himself during his trial as a pawn of international businessmen he said were trying to seize power.
He named the son of former British Prime Margaret Thatcher, as being implicated, an allegation Mark Thatcher has denied.
It was not immediately clear where Mann, who is understood to have family both in Britain and South Africa, would go.
South African-based political analyst Nigel Morgan said authorities in Equatorial Guinea had for been weighing up the pros and cons of holding Mann for some time.
“The guy was hanging out as a security risk so why not get rid of him? (Equatorial Guinea) squeezed every last bit of PR (public relations) out of it,” Morgan said.
A foreign diplomat in the country said there had been signs Obiang wanted to make a gesture before the presidential campaign that would show his leadership in a good light to the world.
“It is a gesture that costs the president very little. But acts of largesse mean less than systematic change,” said the diplomat of a 30-year rule by Obiang which has left little room for political opposition or civil society.
Obiang’s leadership has drawn criticism for widescale rights abuses and the mismanagement of the vast oil riches accumulated from his country, which produces some 450 000 barrels of oil equivalent a day and is now looking to step up gas exports.
But few doubt the outcome of the November 29 poll. In December 2002 Obiang was reelected with 97.1% of the vote after rivals pulled out complaining of a crackdown on opposition during the run-up to the election.
Pic: Simon Mann