Ex-SAS man found guilty in Zimbabwe.
The alleged leader of a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea was convicted yesterday of trying to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer, but 66 other suspected mercenaries were acquitted of the charge.
Former British special forces member Simon Mann admitted trying to order assault rifles, grenades, anti-tank rocket launchers and other weapons from the Zimbabwe Defence Industries - an offence punishable by up to ten years in prison.
But magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said prosecutors failed to prove their case against 64 other men arrested when their ageing Boeing 727 landed at Harare International Airport on March 7 and two already in Zimbabwe with Mann at the time.
He also acquitted Mann of an additional charge of taking possession of the weapons.
Eton and Sandhurst educated Mann went from the Scots Guards to the SAS. He has a home on the banks of the Beaulieu river in Hampshire.
Prosecutors, who admitted only having circumstantial evidence against most of the suspects, had already dropped weapons charges against the plane's three-man crew.
But all 67 aboard have pleaded guilty to immigration and aviation violations carrying a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a fine.
Prosecutors say Equatorial Guinea's Spanish-based rebel leader, Severo Moto, offered the group pounds 1 million and oil rights to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
The suspects maintain they were headed to jobs protecting a mining operation in war-torn eastern Congo, and Mann testified that is what the weapons were for.
Guvamombe made no mention of a link between the attempted purchase and the alleged coup in his verdict, defence lawyer Alwyn Griebenow said.
Any purchase of 'weapons of war' not sanctioned by the government is illegal under Zimbabwe's sweeping security act.
All the accused were remanded in custody until September 10.
Nineteen other suspects, including a number of South Africans, are on trial in Equatorial Guinea. Another defendant, a German, died shortly after his arrest in March after Amnesty International said he appeared to have been tortured.
Equatorial Guinea prosecutors said yesterday that they were also seeking to extradite Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who is under house arrest in South Africa for allegedly financing the plot.
Nguema has presided for 25 years over what is widely considered one of the world's most corrupt and oppressive regimes.
Some of the alleged mercenaries, including ex-British SAS officer Simon Mann, centre with glasses, are escorted at the Chikurubi maximum security prison