Mann’s cushy jail plan

2009-11-23 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — The British mercenary Simon Mann bought himself a “relatively luxurious” lifestyle in Equatorial Guinea’s notorious Black Beach prison, by paying a government minister and a police official about R6 million. Freed mercenary Niek du Toit told Beeld yesterday that Mann, the architect behind the attempted coup in March 2004, attempted to bribe officials to ensure his release.

“He told me how he’d tried to buy himself out of prison with £400 000 or £500 000, and how that had apparently not been enough. They wanted more. He learned a lesson. £500 000 is a large amount of money.”

As a result of Mann’s bribery, take-away meals from the best hotel in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, were delivered to him. He also wasn’t in cuffs for 24 hours a day, like the other mercenaries were.

“Food from the Paraiso Hotel was delivered to his cell, or he was taken out to a part of the prison which was specially built to serve as a court,” said Du Toit.

Regarding allegations that Mann was allowed to drink wine, Du Toit said: “I never saw any wine, so I can’t say if there was wine. But it’s customary to drink wine with meals in that country, so it is possible.”

The other inmates were prevented from doing any exercise. Du Toit lost 37 kg in prison.

But a treadmill was installed in Mann’s cell.

”There was a period recently when the guards started removing our handcuffs while we were still in our cells. We still had shackles around our ankles. One morning I tried to do a few exercises, but they were watching me via security cameras.

“That night, at 23:00, they came storming into my cell and handcuffed me again. They didn’t say a word.

“The next day, when I asked why I was now being shackled again, they said if I ever dared to exercise again, they would tie me to the bed.”

Besides the treadmill, Mann also had a writing desk in his cell, and he was able to walk about with relative ease.

“He bought himself a more luxurious lifestyle. We, on the other hand, didn’t have the money to do so, but we were also not prepared to start paying bribes, because once you start paying, it never stops.”

Du Toit says he basically had no contact with Mann in prison. “We were locked up separately in single cells, and when we were taken out of our cells, he was never there with us.”

The only time he had any contact with Mann was during a consultation with the Attorney General of Equatorial Guinea, Justice Obono Olo. Mann borrowed Obono’s cellphone to speak to his wife, Amanda.

“I couldn’t hear everything, since he was about 20 metres away from us. They were talking about money.

“Simon had an argument with his wife about money which had to be transferred, which she had not done. He told her she must hurry up, since it disadvantaged him.”

According to Du Toit, senior officials of the Equatorial Guinea government were always looking for money. During an official visit to South Africa, one even tried to use Du Toit’s bank card in an attempt to draw money from his local account. Luckily, the account had been frozen.

Du Toit says he does not feel vengeful toward Mann.

“I hold no grudge against him. I’m not that type of guy. We knew what we were getting ourselves into, and things just didn’t work out. I’ve known him for a long time, and I really don’t have a problem with him.”

Mann was arrested in March 2004 in Harare, when he landed there, in a plane filled with mercenaries, to pick up weapons for the coup.

After four years as an inmate of Zimbabwe’s Chikurubi prison, he was extradited to Equatorial Guinea, where he was sentenced to 34 years in prison.

Mann, Du Toit and three other mercenaries, Sergio Cardoso, Jose Domingos and George Alerson, were released on Tuesday, November 3.

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