Image: Simon Mann
Rodrigo Angue Nguema  /  AFP - Getty Images
Former British officer Simon Mann, right, was sentenced Monday to 34 years and four months in prison for leading a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.
updated 7/7/2008 3:27:48 PM ET 2008-07-07T19:27:48

A court in Equatorial Guinea convicted former British officer Simon Mann on Monday of being the key player in a failed 2004 coup plot in this Central African nation and sentenced him to 34 years and four months in prison.

Judge Carlos Mangue upbraided the 55-year-old Briton, saying he "had failed to show an attitude of regret" despite his apology before the court. To underline his point, the judge gave Mann a prison sentence four years longer than the prosecution had asked for.

"Simon Mann is the principal person at the origin of the preparation, the organization and the execution of this attempted coup," Mangue said.

During the trial last week, Mann acknowledged that he knowingly took part in the attempt to topple the government. His lawyer, however, argued that Mann was a secondary player and not the author of the botched 2004 coup try.

Africa's No. 3 oil producer
Although most of its people are poor and its land area is small, Equatorial Guinea is Africa's No. 3 oil producer. The prosecution charged that Mann and the other coup plotters intended to install exiled opposition leader Severo Moto at the helm in exchange for a share of the nation's oil wealth.

Strongman President Teodoro Obiang seized control of the nation in a 1979 coup and his government is considered to be among Africa's worst violators of human rights. There have been numerous coup attempts since he took power and his administration has become increasingly brutal in silencing internal unrest.

In addition to Mann, the court also convicted six others Monday. Lebanese businessman Mohamed Salaam, convicted of aiding in coup attempt, was sentenced to 18 years, while five Equatorial Guineans were each sentenced to a little over five years.

Charges were dropped against a sixth Equatorial Guinean due to lack of evidence.

Neither Mann nor the other defendants were allowed to speak in court. He stood in his sky blue prison uniform when the verdict was read, eyes fixed straight ahead.

Afterward, he told Britain's Channel 4 News, "Maybe you can appeal, I don't know." Mann also said he had no idea about the possibility of a presidential pardon.

Fatalistic about prison sentence
Asked if he could cope with his long prison sentence, Mann was fatalistic.

"If you've got to push (yourself), you've got to," he said.

Mann was extradited to Equatorial Guinea in January from Zimbabwe, where he was arrested in 2004 along with a planeload of about 70 other alleged coup plotters.

On Monday, Mangue called on the country's attorney general to use every legal means possible to extradite the other suspected coup plotters, including Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Mark Thatcher pleaded guilty in a South African court several years ago to unwittingly helping bankroll the 2004 coup operation. He was fined and given a suspended sentence. Mangue said Mark Thatcher — like Mann — also needed to face justice in the country he tried to destabilize.

Rights groups have charged that Mann's trial has been marred by forced confessions.

Amnesty International's Muluka-Anne Miti said the Equatorial Guinea nationals convicted alongside Mann were tortured during their interrogations and forced to sign statements they did not make.

Amnesty does not, however, have any indication that Mann himself was tortured, she said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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