Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Thatcher & Simon Mann's African Coup

"Old Etonian" Hubris

Simon Mann, arrested
Simon Mann, arrested

Whatever his culpability, Thatcher likely has Simon Mann to blame for involving him in the Guinean affair. Mann, 51, has been characterized as part businessman, part buccaneer. Married with several children, Mann owns homes in Hampshire, in the south of England, and near Thatcher in Constantia, South Africa.

Like Thatcher, Mann was born to privilege. His father was George Mann, who gained fame as an English cricket captain and went on to earn a fortune as an executive with the Watney's Brewing empire.

Simon followed in his father's footsteps to Eton, the exclusive English boarding school for boys whose illustrious graduates have included 18 British prime ministers, the occasional archbishop of Canterbury and more than a few royals, including Prince Charles' sons, Harry and William.

As an "Old Etonian," as graduates are known, Mann was welcomed into a club-like association of the world's elite. The prep school background and privileged upbringing give Mann and Thatcher — and, some would say, President Bush — a common characteristic: hubris, the overweening self-confidence that they can do no wrong, even when they do.

Mann entered military service and made his way into the British Army's Special Air Services, an elite force comparable to the Green Berets. He left the service as an officer in the 1980s. In 1993 he established the firm Executive Outcomes, which he described as a security company but others viewed as a mercenary enterprise.

His business associates included Nick du Toit, arrested on the ground in Equatorial Guinea, and Neil Steyl, pilot of the jet whose arrival in Zimbabwe touched off the coup's unraveling. A decade ago, Executive Outcomes held lucrative contracts protecting oil wells in Angola against anti-government insurgents. It also was hired against insurgents by the Sierra Leone government.

But mercenary firms fell out of favor in Africa in recent years, and South Africa, where many of the soldiers of fortune had been based, outlawed military meddling. Mann folded Executive Outcomes and opened another security firm under a new name, Logo Logistics, based in the Virgin Islands.

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