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The Oil Dispute in Equatorial Guinea

France Checkmated NATO

The spectacular arrest of Mark Thatcher (British Iron Lady’s son) in South Africa and the confessions of his accomplices in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea clarified completely the fail coup against this country. The operation was not organized by adventurers or mercenaries paid by international financiers, but by NATO. The U.S. had mobilized the British and Spanish services to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang and take control of the country to build the largest gas-liquefying station of the world. By doing this, the U.S. would have taken the French oil company Total out of the market thus favoring Spanish Repsol. But France knew about the operation and made it fail.

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On April 2004, we informed about elements linked to a failed coup project against President Teodoro Obiang Ngema in Equatorial Guinea. The operation was interrupted by the arrest in Zimbabwe of a group of mercenaries led by Simon Mann. The group made a stopover in Harare city to embark weapons and expected to join a team in Equatorial Guinea to overthrow the regime of this small country which has the third largest hydrocarbon reserve in Sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, new elements have come up with the arrest of Sir. Mark Thatcher, son of the former British Primer Minister and a sly fox of international finances.

Sir Thatcher was arrested on August 25, 2004, in his residency in Cape Town where some nostalgic apartheid followers still live. The arrest was the result of the work of Scorpions, the South African anti-fraud brigade. South Africa passed the Foreign Military Assistance Act, a severe law to fight mercenaries-linked activities. Sir Thatcher was released after paying a 200,000 €(Euros) bail and appeared in court at Cape Town on November 25. Some time later, the Zimbabwe courts found 66 of the 74 mercenaries of Simon Mann’s mercenary group not guilty.

Mann was accused of buying illegal weapons and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on September 10. At the same time, in Equatorial Guinea, the verdict on Nick Du Toit and 18 men of his “group Trojan horse” was postponed due to the appearance of new elements that involve Mark Thatcher, the son of the former British Primer Minister. A defendant named Du Toit, who testified that Thatcher was present at a meeting during the preparations for the coup, would be found not guilty due to his cooperation during the investigations [1].

Airline Triple A Aviation was linked to Thatcher’s activities for it seemed that Sir Thatcher used it to transfer some $275 000 of the operation funds. It seemed that the airline signed on January 2004 an agreement on aviation services with Logo, Simon Mann’s company. The bank records proved that $ 100,000 were transferred to Logo’s account on March 2,2004; only two days before the fail coup [2]. Although South Africa rejected the Iron Lady’s son extradition to Equatorial Guinea, investigators could question him in South African territory. Sir Thatcher was prepared to leave South Africa, where he has lived since 1996, to avoid a tax investigation. His residency was already on sale for 4.5 million dollars and his family’s airline tickets for the U.S. were booked when he was arrested by the Scorpions.

Witnesses Stimulated by Anti-mercenary Laws

Probably, some key witnesses decided to talk for they feared the rigor of the anti-mercenary laws in South Africa and Zimbabwe. By confirming the theory of the coup d’état in Equatorial Guinea to empower exiled leader Severo Moto, one of these witnesses revealed conclusive elements for the South African investigation. It’s about Crause Steyl, Thatcher’s financial partner and former elite pilot. Apart from Steyl’s contracts with Thatcher to obtain aeronautic stuff, British diary The Observer revealed, from a South African source, that Crause Steyl flew with Moto in a King Air 200 airplane from Madrid to the Canary Islands the day before of the operation. Then, the plane went to Bamako, Mali, where Moto was to be kept informed on the coup.

Everything was set to empower Moto 30 minutes after Obiang’s overthrow. But, the next day, the militarized Boeing 727 [3] piloted by Neil Steyl -Crause Steyl’s brother- and boarded by Mann and about 60 mercenaries was searched at Harare Airport (Zimbabwe).

It was recently known that Simon Mann’s right-hand man, James Kershaw -24 years old- had a list known as the “Wonga List” in which included the influential and public personalities that financed the coup project. This man, considered by some witnesses as the person in charge of recruiting the people involved in the operation, seemed to have reached an agreement with the South African justice to give proving elements during future hearings.

The role played by the businessman of Lebanese origin was also confirmed and clarified due to the reconstruction of Severo Moto’s role -both men are close friends- and the testimony given by Mann which was particularly detailed but on a general basis seemed that he was not tortured. In his statement, Mann said: «Ely Calil asked me if I wanted to meet with Severo Moto (...) I met with Severo Moto in Madrid. He certainly is a good and honest man. He has spent years in seminars (...) In that moment they asked me if I could be part of Severo Moto’s escort to his country in a moment in which an army and civilian uprising against Obiang was going to take place (...) I agreed to help such a cause».

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Lord Jeffrey Archer

As we said on April 2004, the French justice investigated Eli Calil during the Elf case as the Nigerian President’s favorite intermediary during that time -General Abacha- for secrete commissions on oil contracts (Nigeria is one of Africa’s main oil producers). Calil was also Lord Jeffrey Archer’s close friend whom was suspected to have deposited 74 000 sterling pounds at Mann’s account four days before Mann’s arrest in Zimbabwe. They did not deny the transaction was made but swore they did not know anything about his friends’ plans [4].

NATO at the Service of the Oil Coalition

But this was not the end of the story. Beyond Mark Thatcher’s personality, who’s been the focus of attention, the true actors began to appear: NATO and France waged a strategic battle that reminded people of the Iraqi situation, another country among those not very common anymore which offered solid perspectives regarding energy investment recovery.

In fact, the thesis of a simple “old-style” operation planned by a group of mercenaries and adventurers of the international finances could not be analyzed in a context of increasing tensions on the market of the world energy supplies. For instance, it’s been known that American oil company Marathon Oil was to invest 1,000 million dollars in a liquified gas terminal project in Equatorial Guinea. However, certain experts, who noticed that this was the largest project on the liquified gas field in the world, estimated that in real life the contract was a 3 000 million dollar deal.

The terminal would respond to an urgency plan that should compensate the dramatic fall in the domestic production of the U.S. This urgency program was one of Washington’s main priorities and obviously could not be left to a simple market interpretation that was incapable of preventing the crisis [5]. Curiously, the web site of the company specified that the contract signed with the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Energy of Equatorial Guinea and national company GEPetrol ended in the first quarter of 2004. Did anything distort the plans?

On December 2002, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar received Teodoro Obiang Ngema in Madrid. Apart from the old friendship between Aznar and Obiang’s rival, opponent Severo Moto [6], the ambitions of Spanish oil company Repsol - left out of Equatorial Guinea oil production (400 000 barrels a day)- were discussed by both leaders. But since the majority of the oil production contracts was already signed and impossible to be enlarged, Repsol had to accept Exxon-Mobil, Amerada Hess (former Triton) and French Total’s leftovers for they were Equatorial Guinea’s main active companies.

A meeting on the future of Equatorial Guinea took place last February at London’s Royal Institute of International Affairs. At least, one representative of the British government and representatives of the oil industry were present and, according to various participants, there were rumors about a possible coup. However, due to a statement made by the British daily The Observer which said that Spanish, American and English secret services knew about the coup project [7], British Minister of Foreign Relations Jack Straw quickly stated that Tony Blair’s government did not have any information on the project.

At the moment in which the plan entered its final stage and mercenaries were ready to act, two Spanish warships suddenly set sail from a NATO base in Rota, with 500 elite soldiers on board. It seemed that only they knew what their destiny was and Spain had not sent any warship to Equatorial Guinea since the independence of this African country in 1968. The direction of the two ships was controlled by the Commander in Chief of the Command of the American forces in Europe and NATO Supreme commander, General James L. Jones.

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General James Jones

Information leaks, probably coming from South Africa, got the Spanish press and Aznar government order the convoy to stop at the Canaries. Through his Minister of Foreign Relations, Ana Palacio, the very same government -that never said anything publicly about the expedition- said that “it was not a war mission but a cooperation” to deliver military stuff to help Obiang in the border conflict between his country and neighboring Gabon. Aznar’s government spokesman added the decision was canceled “due to a misinterpretation caused by the press” and that it was wise to postpone it after scheduled elections for April in Equatorial Guinea [8]. This NATO involvement left no doubts on the U.S. participation on Thatcher, Mann and his partners’ projects.

Other sources affirmed that Spain was planning to take advantage of Obiang’s stay in Morocco where he received medical treatment to fight his cancer, to support the mercenaries, “reestablish order” if the situation worsened, empower Moto and issue an international arrest warrant against Obiang.

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Jacques Chirac and Téodoro Ngema Obiang.

On the other hand, French intelligence services had the chance of intervening by informing South African and/or Zimbabwe’s authorities at the right time thus allowing them to capture the mercenaries on their way to Malabo and, at the same time, protect the interests of the French oil company Total. Currently, it is a pleasure for Zapatero’s government to assist the South African justice. Thirty years ago, by following a Frederick Forsyth-styled plan, a few skillful and unscrupulous mercenaries could have guaranteed a nice retirement for themselves. Today, for a few more barrels it is NATO, on behalf of the very same oil coalition that invaded Iraq, the one that launched itself on an adventure pushed by the international financial institutions.

[1] Kim Sengupta: «Du Toit may be pardoned in return for ’co-operation’», The Guardian, August 31, 2004

[2] Wisani Wa Ka Ngo: “Mark Thatcher: The Money Trail”, Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), August 27, 2004

[3] It’s been known that the plane had been modified for its military use by the American army so that it could land and take off in shorter airstrips and its occupants could have access to a pressurized load compartment during the flight. Mann bought it by paying 400 000 of his own to a firm based in Kansas a week before the operation

[4] Fred Bridgland: «Coup plot conviction increases the pressure on Mark Thatcher», The Scotsman, August 28, 2004

[5] On the relationship between an energetic market and the American military strategy, see Arthur Lepic: «Les ombres du rapport Cheney», Voltaire, March 30, 2004

[6] Ben Sills and David Pallister: «Exiled leader in Spain denies any link to coup attempt», The Guardian, August 27, 2004

[7] Anthony Barnett, Martin Bright y Patrick Smith: «Britain dragged into coup plot as rumors swirl over London meeting», The Observer, August 29, 2004

[8] Edward Owen: «Spain ’secretly backed coup by sending warships’», The Times, August 27, 2004

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