By Peta Thornycroft
Convicted mercenary Simon Mann was seized from his tiny cell at the maximum-security prison Chikurubi in Harare in the early hours of Thursday and rushed to an Air Force security base near Harare International Airport.
He was briefly detained there before being deported to Equatorial Guinea - the oil-rich country whose dictatorial leader he was accused of trying to overthrow in an aborted coup in March 2004.
President Robert Mugabe's government delivered him to the potential horrors of Black Beach prison in Equatorial Guinea's capital Malabo, while his lawyers were still appealing against his deportation.
'It is illegal. He has been abducted'
Well-placed sources said that Obiang's government sent an aircraft to Harare to collect Mann hours after he lost an appeal against his deportation order in the Harare High court on Wednesday - and before his lawyers were able to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Mann's lawyer, Jonathan Samkange, on Friday accused the Zimbabwean authorities of illegally "abducting" Mann. Samkange then lost a legal bid to have Mann returned from Equatorial Guinea late on Friday.
High Court judge Alfas Chitakunye dismissed Samkange's application for Mann's extradition to be reversed and for him to be returned to Harare.
Mann has opposed the deportation order all along on the grounds that he would be tortured in Equatorial Guinea as other members of the coup plot allegedly have been.
"It is illegal. He has been abducted," said Jonathan Samkange, his lawyer.
'I will be a dead man'
"Deporting a person at night is not only mischievous but unlawful."
A new wing has been built at Black Beach jail and the regime says that conditions have improved since Amnesty International reported in 2005 that prisoners routinely starved to death. Nguema's regime has pledged to refrain from torturing or executing Mann.
But Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich dictatorship formerly ruled by Spain, has one of Africa's worst human rights records.
Mann, who served a four-year sentence in Zimbabwe for trying to buy weapons, made frantic efforts to avoid extradition. He once told his lawyer that if he was ever sent there, "I will be a dead man".
It is understood that Mann tried to resist being taken out of his Chikurubi cell around midnight on Wednesday.
Mann told the officials who had come to collect him that he had an appeal against his deportation pending at the Supreme Court. However the officials ignored his pleas and bundled Mann out of the prison under heavy security and took him to Manyame Air Force base.
He was on a plane to Equatorial Guinea by about 1am on Thursday morning.
Mann's lawyers are insisting that he should be returned to Zimbabwe because he was deported in violation of the law.
This was because they had given notice that they would file an appeal against High Court judge Rita Makarau's ruling on Wednesday upholding an earlier decision to deport him.
"Once Mann's lawyers had noted their intention to appeal at the Supreme Court, his deportation should have been stopped pending a decision of the higher courts," said one lawyer, who did not want to be named. Mann's lawyers will go to the Supreme Court on Monday to try to persuade the country's highest court to have him returned.
But that appears to be a futile exercise as Zimbabwe's Supreme Court is stuffed by Mugabe's cronies. The deal to have Mann deported was apparently struck between Mugabe and EG President Teodoro Obiang Nguema when the two leaders visited each other in their respective capitals last year.
Some observers believe that Mugabe has in effect sold Mann for oil as Equatorial Guinea has been helping bankrupt Zimbabwe with the precious commodity.
Nguema is a African leader of the old school. In power since a coup in 1979, he has built an adulatory personality cult. State radio has declared Nguema a "god" who is "in permanent contact with the Almighty" and "can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell".
Some reports - unproven and unverifiable - suggest that Nguema might have been an occasional cannibal, in the mould of despots like Idi Amin in Uganda.
Equatorial Guinea is Africa's third biggest oil producer. Since the alleged plot was uncovered, Nguema has become an ally of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, supplying Harare's cash-strapped regime with fuel.
British-born Mann, a former member of the British special forces and a mercenary, was living in Cape Town in 2004 when he allegedly hatched a plot with others Britons and South Africans to topple Obiang in a coup and replace him with exiled opposition leader Severo Moto.
But SA intelligence sources apparently got wind of the plan and tipped off the Zimbabweans.
When a chartered aircraft full of hired mercenaries landed at Harare airport in March 2004 to collect a consignment of arms which Mann had ordered from the Zimbabwe arms parastatal, Mann and about 70 other men were arrested.
A little later, in Malabo, the South African ex-mercenary Nick du Toit and several other South African and foreign accomplices, were also arrested.
The Du Toit group was tried in Malabo and convicted of planning a coup to be launched when Mann and his men arrived on the island in their chartered aircraft loaded with weapons.
Du Toit was sentenced to 34 years in prison and the others were given lesser sentences. Most are still sitting in Black Beach prison where they claim to have been tortured.
Zimbabwe sends British mercenary to face the despot he plotted to overthrow
By Andy McSmith and Basildon Peta
Saturday, 2 February 2008
The alleged leader of a foiled coup in Equatorial Guinea was taken from his cell at a maximum-security prison in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, in the early hours of Thursday and despatched to an air force base near Harare airport where he was briefly detained and then deported.
Fears of what now lies in store for him will be exacerbated by a sudden decision by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema to cancel a visit to Equatorial Guinea by the UN special rapporteur on torture. Mann is expected to be held in Black Beach prison, in Malubo, the Equatorial Guinea capital. Conditions there are said to have improved since Amnesty International issued a warning in 2005 that the inmates were in danger of starving to death on their daily ration of a cup of rice and one or two bread rolls.
In Zimbabwe, Mann's lawyers had pleaded against extradition on the grounds that he would be tortured if he fell into the hands of the African ruler whose overthrow he is accused of plotting in 2004.
Mann's lawyers are insisting that he should be returned because he was deported in violation of the law, after they had indicated that they were filing an appeal against a decision of a High Court judge Rita Makarau, who had ruled in favour of Mann's deportation on Wednesday. She said Mann's team had failed to come up with convincing evidence that Mr Nguema practises torture on political opponents.
He was on a plane to Malabo at about 1am on Thursday, apparently under an agreement between the Zimbabwean and Equatorial Guinean authorities. In the morning, his lawyer Jonathan Samkange lodged an appeal in the Zimbabwe Supreme Court, only to learn that his client was "missing".
It is another twist in an extraordinary life of an officer and a gentleman who seems to have stepped out of the pages of a Victorian penny thriller. Mann's father, George, and his grandfather, Frank, heirs to the Watneys brewery fortune, both captained the England cricket team. The only other father-and-son combination to have done that are Colin and Chris Cowdrey.
Mann himself, born in 1952, went to Eton and Sandhurst, joined the Scots Guards and served in the SAS until 1981. Early in the 1990s he set up Executive Outcomes, a security consultancy which earned millions guarding Angolan oil installations against rebel attacks. He then joined a fellow former Scots Guardsman, Tim Spicer, to set up Sandline International, which smuggled arms into Sierra Leone to help bring down the regime of Foday Sanko and restore President Ahmed Kabbah to office.
In March 2004, Mann was arrested at Harare airport after he touched down in a plane carrying more than 60 mercenaries, most from South Africa, and a huge quantity of arms. They claimed to be on their way to guard diamond mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mann was sentenced to seven years for breaking immigration laws, and was expected to be released last year.
In Equatorial Guinea, an advance party of 19 men, including the Afrikaner arms dealer, Nick du Toit, received long jail terms. Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former prime minister, was arrested in South Africa and received a heavy fine for helping to finance the coup.
Du Toit's wife has claimed he was tortured, provoking fears that the same is in store for Mann. Mr Nguema has a fearsome reputation, though there is no evidence to support the more lurid stories about him, such as his supposed habit of eating his victims' testicles. But Marise Castro, of Amnesty International, said there were three known cases in 2007 of petty offenders being beaten to death by the police in Equatorial Guinea.
Mann was whisked to Equatorial Guinea on the very day that the UN special rapporteur, Manfred Nowak, was due to begin a 10-day visit to look into allegations of torture. Professor Nowak was told "at very short notice" that the visit was being put off because of "urgent government business". He contacted Equatorial Guinea's Vice-Prime Minister for Human Rights, Aniceto Ebiaka Moete, to ask what this urgent business was, and was told that the government was updating its electoral register.
Professor Nowak's spokesman said: "The special rapporteur wishes to remind the government of Equatorial Guinea that fact-finding missions are planned long in advance and require extensive research as well as logistical and financial resources on the part of the special rapporteur. It is therefore with strong regret that the special rapporteur accepted this postponement."
The men behind the 'coup'
* Nick Du Toit
A South African arms dealer and former commando, he was jailed for 34 years in November 2004 after confessing to his role in the coup allegedly masterminded by Simon Mann. Du Toit, 51, withdrew his confession before his trial, claiming it was forced out of him under torture.
* Severo Moto
Moto is the exiled, self-styled "president" of Equatorial Guinea, who allegedly would have been installed in power in Malubo had the coup succeeded. In 1997, he was arrested in Angola, where the authorities found him aboard a boat laden with arms. He then sought exile in Spain, where he still lives. The Spanish government was accused by Equatorial Guinea of complicity in the 2004 coup attempt. He was sentenced in his absence to 63 years in prison.
* Sir Mark Thatcher
The former prime minister's son is an old friend of Mann, and they brokered a number of business deals together. The South African authorities intercepted a letter from Mann saying he was expecting £111,000 in US currency from "Scratcher" – his nickname for Sir Mark – as an investment in the coup. Sir Mark was fined £250,000 and received a four-year suspended jail term. As a result, he was refused a residence visa in America.
* Eli Calil
The Lebanese-born businessman was accused by the government of Equatorial Guinea of financing the alleged coup, but this has never been proved.
* Jeffrey Archer
Four days before the planned date of the coup, £74,000 was deposited in Mann's account by one JH Archer. Lord Archer categorically denied any involvement in the coup, and was not accused of wrongdoing.
Peta Thornycraft is getting even more schizophrenic
'Injured' Simon Mann may still be in Zimbabwe
By Peta Thornycroft in Johannesburg and Byron Dziva in Harare
Last Updated: 1:52am GMT 04/02/2008
The whereabouts of Simon Mann remains unknown as his lawyer said that Zimbabwe's regime may not have deported him to Equatorial Guinea.
Instead, the former SAS officer may have been injured by police and then hidden in a secret location inside Zimbabwe. The alleged mercenary has served a four-year sentence in Chikurubi maximum security prison outside Harare for attempting to buy weapons.
Last week, the authorities said that Mann, 55, had been deported to the West African state of Equatorial Guinea, where he is accused of plotting to overthrow the regime in return for a share of the country's oil wealth.
Mann is known to have disappeared from his prison cell before Jonathan Samkange, his lawyer, could appeal to the supreme court to halt the extradition.
At first, Mr Samkange believed that his client, an old Etonian and the son of a former England cricket captain, had been sent to Equatorial Guinea.
But new evidence suggests that Mann may still be in Zimbabwe. Mr Samkange said that he had checked the "occurrence book" at Chikurubi jail, which records all movements of prisoners in and out.
"Simon Mann should have signed that book when he left. He did not sign it," said the lawyer. "I went to Chikurubi at midday on Thursday. I was told by officials at the prison that Simon Mann was screaming as they dragged him out, and he was crying for me. He told them that he could not leave without me - he knew his rights, that I had to be there."
Mr Samkange added: "I believe that he resisted them and that he has been injured and they are hiding him until he recovers."
Mann left behind all his personal possessions in his cell, including some letters from his family.