Two reports on the background to the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea were sent in December 2003 and January 2004 by South African “security expert” Johann Smith to British intelligence and to Michael Westphal, senior colleague of Donald Rumsfeld and deputy assistant secretary of defence.
According to the Observer, the second report warned the coup would take place in March this year and that “knowing the individuals as well as I do, this timeline is very realistic and will provide for ample time to plan, mobilise, equip and deploy the force.” Smith, a former commander in the South African special forces and apparently now working for the Equatorial Guinea regime, was given information by some of the South African mercenaries involved. He claims he has received death threats since the coup attempt and that he received no acknowledgements from Britain or the United States.
This revelation came after British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted in response to parliamentary questioning that the British government knew as early as January 2004 that the coup was being planned. Previously British ministers and officials denied any knowledge of the coup attempt. The operation is alleged to have been partly financed by Sir Mark Thatcher, son of the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose court case in South Africa for involvement in the coup has been postponed to April. Straw has apparently been forced to come clean about British involvement because there is now so much information available about the events leading up to the coup attempt, including the evidence being prepared for the Thatcher trial.
In his parliamentary answer Straw attempted to play down the admission that he had received the reports from Smith, claiming it was similar to reports circulating in the Spanish media. Because there were similar rumours the previous year, Straw claimed that the British government was sceptical about its accuracy. He also claimed that his officials could find no definitive evidence of the coup plot. This is hardly credible. Smith’s reports give a wealth of information on the coup plans and the individuals involved and South African intelligence must have had knowledge of mercenaries being recruited.
Everything points to the British, American and also the Spanish governments giving tacit support to a privately funded plot to remove the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang, and replace him by Severo Moto, a leading opponent of the regime living in exile in Spain. Obiang is said to be in poor health and, whilst the Bush administration and western regimes are on good terms with this despot, there are fears that if he dies there would be an internecine struggle between possible successors.
Fear of such instability must also be of concern to the oil corporations involved, such as ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco, as Equatorial Guinea is now the third largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. The tiny country of less than 500,000 people had a gross domestic product of $US1.85 billion in 2001 and churns out 350,000 barrels of oil a day. It has vast oil reserves, estimated to be approximately 10 percent of the total global reserves according to the US Department of Energy. US oil companies have invested $US3 billion in the country since 1995. Most of the population live in dire poverty and the regime is renowned for its brutality, with political detainees routinely tortured or ill-treated according to Amnesty International. A report by a US Senate committee revealed hundreds of millions of dollars had been deposited by Obiang, his family and associates in the Washington-based Riggs Bank “with little or no attention to the bank’s anti-money laundering obligations....”
Equatorial Guinea accuses Spain of sending two warships with 500 marines on board to back a seizure of power. Not surprisingly the members of the Popular Party government of José Maria Aznar, removed from office one week after the coup attempt, deny involvement. They claim that a “courtesy mission” was cancelled as soon as it had started in agreement with Equatorial Guinea.
Some 17 mercenaries were arrested in Equatorial Guinea when the coup attempt was thwarted. Their leader, Nick Du Toit, has now been sentenced to 34 years in prison with most of the others receiving heavy sentences. Du Toit was the only mercenary to admit he was taking part in an attempted coup. He has now withdrawn his evidence, claiming it was extracted under torture.