Africa Confidential, March 2004EQUATORIAL GUINEAMercenary fandango
The South African mercenaries detained in Bioko and Zimbabwe
were en route to Malabo to oust President Obiang - but at whose
instigation?Print this special report
The foiled plot to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema
Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and replace him with opposition
leader Severo Moto Nsa ranks as one of the most farcical
military adventures in Africa's long history of coup-making. It
may also embarrass the governments of Spain and South
Africa as questions are asked about how the plotters were
able to organise their plan with apparent impunity.
Africa Confidential has learned that both the arrests
of 15 South African ex-soldiers in Bioko, following the seizure
of a United States-registered plane in Zimbabwe,
and the arrests of a further 64 South African ex-soldiers on 7
March were part of a mismanaged plot to overthrow President Obiang
and install Spanish-based opposition leader Severo Moto. Moto,
who was involved in a separate, failed mercenary-led conspiracy
in the late 1990s, has vigourously denied the charge.
The coup plotters who flew in to Harare Airport on 7 March
appear to have been duped by some Zimbabwean military officers,
led by Colonel Tshinga Dube, Director of Zimbabwe Defence
Industries. The week before, some of the ringleaders flew
into Harare to meet Col. Dube and paid US$180,000 for a consignment
of AK-47s, mortars and 30,000 rounds of ammunition.
But when the main team of mercenaries flew into Harare on 7
March in a Boeing 727-100, registered to US-based Dodson Aviation
Inc., they were all arrested and the plane was seized. Dodson
say that the plane had recently been sold to Logo Logistics, a
private security company, based in the British Virgin Islands.
Africa Confidential has obtained copies of an 'investor
agreement' between Logo Logistics and the Lebanon-based
Asian Trade and Investment Group SAL, which was alleged
to have commissioned the overthrow of President Obiang, according
to military sources in South Africa.
Equatorial Guinea Information Minister Agustin Nze Nfumu
has accused London-based businessman Ely Calil of helping
to organise and finance the coup attempt. But Calil told
Africa Confidential that he had no links to Asian Trade
and Investment Group - and no connection to the coup plot.
However, Calil conceded that he was a friend of opposition leader
Severo Moto, the supposed beneficiary of the plot, and had given
'modest' financial support in recent years.
The unmasking of the coup plot may also embarrass Spanish
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who has had several meetings
with Moto recently, and was said by military sources to have been
aware of the plot. Aznar was due to stand down ahead of
national elections in the following few weeks.
The affair is also a test case for South Africa's anti-mercenary
legislation, given that much of the planning for the coup happened
there and that most of the mercenaries were former South African
President Obiang will doubtless try to use the failed coup
to his advantage. His position had appeared to weaken in the previous
few months, with the succession battle heating up and rifts developing
within the country's tiny ruling clique. The latest blow
to Obiang came in late February when he visited Washington D.C.
in an attempt to resolve problems with his government's account
at Riggs Bank. Obiang is the sole signatory on that account,
which had a balance of more than US$600 million. The account
has recently been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
and an official at Riggs Bank has been interrogated by US agents.