A court in Equatorial Guinea today jailed South African arms dealer Nick du Toit for 34 years for his role in a plot to overthrow the president of the oil-rich west African nation.
Du Toit and seven other South Africans, six Armenians and five Equatorial Guineans were on trial on charges including terrorism, crimes against the head of state and possession of guns and explosives.
The court’s decision not to impose a widely-expected death penalty on Du Toit could help Equatorial Guinea in its bid to extradite the most prominent figure in the plot: Mark Thatcher, the son of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Judge Salvador Onco Ncumu said state prosecutors should continue to pursue all those accused of having a part in the plot who were still outside the country, including Sir Mark.
Du Toit, who like the other foreign detainees was handcuffed and had his ankles chained together throughout the trial, at first admitted he had taken part in a coup plot, but later retracted his confession in court and said it had been extracted by torture. All the other defendants said they were innocent. The state prosecutor has denied the torture allegations.
Opposition figure Severo Moto, the only other defendant for whom prosecutors had requested the death penalty, was sentenced in absentia to 63 years. He lives in exile in Spain. Eight other opposition figures also living in exile were sentenced to 52 years each.
Equatorial Guinea alleges Sir Mark and other, mainly British, financiers commissioned mercenaries based mainly in South Africa to overthrow the 25-year-old regime of President Teodoro Obiang. Plotters intended to install an opposition politician as the figurehead leader of Africa’s third biggest oil producer, prosecutors said. Sir Mark, who has been charged in South Africa in connection with the conspiracy, and all others deny any involvement. Sir Mark had been due to answer questions from Equatorial Guinea about the case in South Africa today, but a Cape Town magistrate postponed that hearing until February 18. The start of his trial in South Africa has been pushed back to April.