A former SAS soldier languishing in a Zimbabwean jail has confessed to numerous failures in his attempt to lead a group of mercenaries in overthrowing the president of Equatorial Guinea.
In a 13-page handwritten statement, Simon Mann describes how he hoped to convince the Harare authorities to let him and his men pass through Zimbabwe.
He pretended to back a rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that could have helped Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean leader, to secure diamond rights for his bankrupt regime. The operation would have been a smokescreen: after dumping off arms for the rebels, Mann and his fighters would have flown on to their real target, oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.
The operation, launched on March 7, foundered when the Zimbabwean authorities impounded Mann's plane after it landed at Harare airport to pick up weapons. Mann and 69 men, mainly South Africans, Angolans and Namibians, were last week charged with conspiring to overthrow Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the president of Equatorial Guinea. They face life imprisonment if found guilty.
In his statement Mann says that he was introduced early last year to Severo Moto, a prominent Equatorial Guinean opposition leader exiled in Madrid. If Moto returned, "there would be an uprising of military and civilians" against Nguema, he says.
Mann, 46, writes that he ordered weapons from Zimbabwe Defence Industries in January: "Naively, I believed that by dealing with ZDI I was dealing with a high level and would be 'covered'."
However, he encountered a string of misfortunes, including a bird strike to the engine of his Russian Antonov 12. When the rebels he was pretending to help failed to secure an airstrip at Kolwezi, in southern DRC, as planned, the operation was postponed.
By mid-February he was planning another run but this ended in the group's arrest.Mann, an old Etonian, insists he was not working with the connivance of western intelligence, as has been alleged.