The latest edition of Private Eye (issue 1171) has an intriguing story about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.
Under the headline, ‘Coup – what a non event’ the Eye notes that that the Obiang regime lost its court case against those it accused of plotting the coup last month.
From the acres of newsprint, documentaries, a film and even a book, the verdict had been clear for months – these men were guilty, and the tiny oil-rich Central African country had been the victim of a wicked conspiracy by public school-educated spivs as greedy as they were thick.
The Eye concludes that ‘we now know’ the story was ‘too good to be true.’
The version peddled by freelance spooks in South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, and their well spoken lawyer was riddled with conviently ignored inconsistencies, lies and inadmissible evidence. But it may have been enough to obscure the real question as to what South Africa and Equatorial Guinea really knew about the conspiracy and when they knew it – and what role they had played in egging it on for their own ends.
If there was no conspiracy, how could the South Africans have egged it on? And how could Judge Anthony Clarke conclude that the Equatorial Guinea’s losses "arose as a direct result of the government’s decisions as to how to respond to the conspiracy.”
The Eye points out that the South African authorities accepted plea bargains ‘rather than have evidence tested in open court’, but neglects the obvious question, why Mark Thatcher opted for a plea bargain, with dire personal consequences for him, if the evidence was so weak?
The story is all the more strange given that many of the accounts it disparages, including Andrew Roberts’ book and John Fortune’s film, are clear that the South Africans penetrated the plot from an early stage, and allowed it to run.
The copious research for Roberts’ book included ‘remarkably frank’ interviews with, and documents written by, Greg Wales, one of the respondents in the court case.
It’s far from clear what the real problem is supposed to be with previous accounts. If anything is ‘riddled with inconsistencies’, it is the Eye story, which itself could be said to ‘obscure the real question’ about the coup attempt, whether Western Governments approved the plot.
Britain certainly knew about the impending coup attempt beforehand, as Tim Spicer was called into to the Foreign Office to discuss it. The official version is that he was instructed to warn off his friend Simon Mann, the key figure in the plot. Robert Young Pelton’s new book casts some doubt on this:
A source close to Simon Mann recollects being briefed on a different exchange. In this version, Spicer told Mann that he had laid out the full details of the coup and described Straw as pleased: "When Spicer met Simon in February last year, just after he had met the FO, reports are that TS and SM had a good meeting and that SM was not in the least discouraged by TS’s FO meeting, and whatever TS had to say put him in a good mood." Spicer denies briefing Mann after the meeting. (Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, P323)