7th September 2004
Equatorial Guinea coup inquiry came to Guernsey
When Zimbabwean police impounded a plane at Harare Airport on 7 March 2004, few would have expected the subsequent inquiry to involve Guernsey’s La Cour Ordinaire six months later – to the day.
The police in Harare arrested three men who were waiting for arms to be loaded onto a Boeing 727. The men said that the weapons, including mortars, rifles and ammunition, were to be used in defending diamond mines in rough parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, the police believed that the arms were to be used in a coup, which would overthrow Teodoro Oblang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea and replace him with opposition leader Severo Moto.
Two days later, 15 men were arrested in Equatorial Guinea itself. They were suspected of being part of a team sent into the country to prepare for the coup.
One of the men arrested at Harare airport, Simon Mann, later alleged in court that former prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, had helped finance the attempted coup. He also claimed that Spain and South Africa had supported the coup.
The Guardian and The Observer reported extensively on the attempted coup and the court cases that followed for several years. They claimed that the British government was aware of it as early as the planning stages.
In November 2004 they obtained documents showing that “Britain was given a full outline of an illegal coup plot in a vital oil-rich African state, including the dates, details of arms shipments and key players, several months before the putsch was launched”.
The Guernsey connection
Lawyers for Equatorial Guinean president Nguema wanted the Guernsey branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland to open up details of two accounts held by Simon Mann.
The lawyers had already once won permission to look into the accounts and safe deposit boxes. However, this had been put on hold when one of Mann’s companies had asked for the order to be discharged. It was whether or not to grant the discharge that the Guernsey court had met to consider.
It took a long time for the case to be settled. According to The Wonga Coup: Simon Mann’s Plot to Seize Oil Billions in Africa by Adam Roberts, “The ruling by the Guernsey court in April 2005, proved uncomfortable [for the prosecutors]. It ordered that no more information from Mann’s accounts should be passed to the lawyer representing Equatorial Guinea.”