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7 YEARS FOR THATCHER'S PAL IN GUNRUNNING PLOT.

Byline: JANE FLANAGAN mirrornews@mgn.co.uk

FORMER SAS officer Simon Mann was jailed for seven years yesterday for trying to buy weapons for a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.

The sentence is far more severe than supporters of the 51-year-old mercenary expected.

It is also claimed Sir Mark Thatcher, his neighbour in Cape Town, South Africa, helped finance a helicopter to be used in the coup - which he denies. Thatcher remains on bail in South Africa. Equatorial Guinea wants to question several other Britons over allegations they financed a plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang, who has ruled Africa's third-largest oil producer for the past 25 years.

Mann admitted trying to buy assault rifles, grenades, anti-tank rocket launchers and other weapons from Zimbabwe Defence Industries. But he claimed they were to protect a mining operation in eastern Congo. He said 65 other suspected mercenaries arrested with him were to provide security. They were sentenced to 12 months. While the two 727 pilots who landed at Harare in March to pick up weapons were given 16 months.

Mann's lawyers said he will not appeal but it is believed some of his wealthy supporters are planning to "ransom" him out of the "hellhole" Chikurubi maximum security prison.

His family have already surrendered a plane and several million dollars to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

CAPTION(S):

ON BAIL: Mann's friend Mark Thatcher; SHACKLED: Mann with inmates at notorious Chikurubi prison; JAIL: Mann at prison yesterday
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 11, 2004
Words:243
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