Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Thatcher & Simon Mann's African Coup

Fails Stupendously

Simon Mann & mercenaries in court
Simon Mann & mercenaries in court

They alleged that the men — 23 Angolans, 20 South Africans, 18 Namibians, two Congolese and a Zimbabwean — were mercenary soldiers heading to tiny Equatorial Guinea, a malarial dot on the map on the west coast of the continent, where they intended to depose a corrupt president.

Two days later, 15 additional men with ties to Mann were arrested in the target country, charged as being the advance team for the coup. The scheme failed so spectacularly that it might be viewed as farce.

British news accounts reported that the plot had been an open secret — it was discussed at an energy conference in London a month before it occurred.

"Whatever Simon was doing, he was incredibly stupid to be flying a bunch of people to Zim and picking up weapons at the same time," Greg Wales, a business associate of Mann, told the British press. "If you think you can do that without a problem, you are a bit naive."

Soldier shows captured weapons
Soldier shows captured weapons

Imprudent as the plot may have been, it has developed into a conspiracy theorist's dream, with tantalizing tentacles reaching to the upper echelons of British and American commerce and politics.

The scandal's marquee name is Sir Mark Thatcher, son of Britain's former prime minister, who faced serious charges in South Africa of helping to finance the plot.

But the abortive coup also attracted Klieg lights on a number of American corporations — many with links to the White House — that do billions of dollars of business with Equatorial Guinea and its president. Federal regulators, suspecting bribery and money laundering, are scrutinizing those relationships.

It all begs a couple of questions:

  • Why would American firms like ExxonMobil and Riggs Bank risk their reputations playing financial footsy with the unscrupulous leader of a dusty African nation less populated than North Dakota?
  • And why would mercenaries be hired to overthrow the despot of such a place?

The answer, in a word, is oil.

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