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'Mercenary' leader grilled by defence lawyers

Published Aug 24, 2004


Malabo - The trial of 14 suspected foreign mercenaries, accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea, resumed here Tuesday, when their South African alleged ringleader was cross-examined by defence lawyers.

Nick du Toit, who has admitted a limited role in a coup bid in Equatorial Guinea, responded to questions by lawyers for his co-accused, who include seven South Africans, six Armenians and four Equato-Guineans.

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"Can you tell this court that all the Equato-Guineans who are here (as defendants) are innocent?" one defence lawyer asked Du Toit as the hearing resumed.

"Yes," came the succinct reply from the South African.

Du Toit said his ties with the four Equato-Guineans accused in the coup plot, including former deputy economic planning minister Antonio Javier Nguema Nchama, were strictly professional. The South African ran several businesses in the oil-rich central African country.

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After Du Toit's cross-examination, another defendant, South African Marius Boonzaaier, took the witness stand.

He told the court that he had arrived in Equatorial Guinea in January of this year to work in Du Toit's Triple Option company.

The South African and Armenian suspects were arrested in March, when President Teodoro Obiang Nguema declared on national television and radio that a bid to oust him had been thwarted.

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On Monday, when the trial opened, Du Toit told the court that he was in charge of logistics for an attempted putsch to oust the long-time leader of Equatorial Guinea.

The South African told Equatorial Guinea's attorney general on Monday that he had accepted the job at the request of Simon Mann, the alleged leader of 70 other suspected mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe days after Obiang announced the coup had been thwarted.

The mercenaries held in Zimbabwe were allegedly due to join Du Toit and the others in Equatorial Guinea to carry out the coup.

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The state prosecutor said Monday he is seeking the death penalty for Du Toit and prison terms ranging from 26 years to 86 years for the other defendants.

South Africa said on Tuesday it would intervene if Du Toit were sentenced to death.

"Our constitution outlaws the death penalty and therefore our government will seek diplomatic intervention if the death penalty is handed down," said foreign ministry spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa.

"The court has not handed down any judgement and therefore no sentence has been passed. The South African government will have to await the decision of the court on this matter before it can make any intervention if so required," he said.

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