Malabo - The fate of the alleged mercenaries involved in the attempted coup against the Equatorial Guinea government appears to hinge on the detailed confession of Nick du Toit, their alleged ringleader. He claims it was extracted by torture, but local law makes no provision for dismissing confessions extracted by torture.
Their prospects look grim as they face conviction and sentencing this Friday. Du Toit faces the death sentence, although Equatorial Guinea has apparently promised the SA government that he will not die. The others face long terms in jail, so the tension among them is rising.
Late on Thursday afternoon - shortly before the state and defence closed their cases - the 19 men accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea were led out to an anteroom while the court held a recess.
The room was filled with cigarette smoke as the captives, wearing leg irons and handcuffs, discussed the court proceedings in muted tones.
The room was filled with cigarette smoke
"What do you think? What will happen to us?" asked Mark Smit, the youngest of the accused who was brought in at the last minute to act as the group's cook.
"Yes, what will happen?" asked Jose Domingos, a former member of the infamous 32 Battalion and a professional soldier by vocation - a mercenary.
International observers from the International Bar Association and Amnesty International have been reluctant to discuss the trial until its conclusion on November 26.
The state has asked that the men be sentenced to up to 86 years in jail each. For Nick du Toit, the alleged coup leader, they want the death sentence. Throughout the trial the only evidence in the state's case has been the signed statements made by the accused, in which they allegedly admitted their individual roles in the coup attempt.
The state, represented by Attorney-General Jose Olo Obono, contends that Nick du Toit was approached by Simon Mann to recruit men and assist in preparing logistics for overthrowing the government of Equatorial Guinea.
But time and again the judge suppressed torture claims
Du Toit allegedly recruited the men arrested with Mann.
Du Toit is also alleged to have led an advance party of men to Equatorial Guinea to pave the way for the arrival of Mann's party, in a Boeing 727 from Harare.
The prosecution has pointed to the South Africans' history of belonging to the infamous 32 Battalion in the former SADF as an indication of the kind of men they are.
"The people who stand accused are not businessmen. They are terrorists and mercenaries. They are all members of 32 Battalion," Obono said on Friday at a news conference.
Du Toit, with Bone Boonzaaier as his right-hand man and logistics operator, set up camp in Malabo, hiring first an Ilyushin transport plane and then an Antonov 12 for use in the coup, the state says.
This is where the six Armenian accused come in. They are an air crew alleged to have flown a number of flights carrying clandestine cargo around Africa during their short time in operation.
Du Toit showed the eight South Africans around Malabo, indicating the strategic places where they were to drop off Mann's group of mercenaries when they arrived from Harare, Obono said during the trial.
Also implicated in the plot were Manuel Javier, the minister of co-operation, and four other locals. Since the start of the trial, the state has dropped all charges against three of the Equatorial Guineans.
On the day of the suspected coup, Du Toit allegedly dispatched three vehicles to the airport where they were supposed to take over the control tower so that the Boeing could land and then drop the mercenaries off at various strategic points around town, including the local supermarket.
Obono further argues that while the men were waiting at the airport, Du Toit got a call from Mann warning him that the mission had been compromised.
Du Toit then aborted the advance plan and recalled the men, who went about business as normal until they were arrested two days after the botched coup attempt.
The state has built a case that has barely been contended by the defence counsel, although claims of torture have continually arisen.
Du Toit, who admitted in his first appearance in court several weeks ago that he had been part of a coup plot, this week retracted that admission, saying it had been based on a confession extracted by torture.
But time and again the judge has suppressed the torture claims, arguing that they are not part of the trial.
One attorney said: "This is not South Africa. There is no democracy here. Neither is there any justice."
There was a show of bravado on Thursday as the eight defence attorneys made an unprecedented attack on the attorney-general, the tribunal's judge and the judicial process in Equatorial Guinea.
"Since our arrest we have been treated like animals and tortured by the police," Du Toit said in his closing statement to the judge.
"Take a look at all the evidence and you will see we are innocent. We have not done anything against this country," he said. Accused Sergio Cardoso has spoken out against his ill-treatment at every opportunity he has had to address the court.
"I was tortured very badly. Gerhard Menz is one of the victims of the torture. They say he passed away because of cerebral malaria, but it's not true. He passed away in front of us," said Cardoso.
He went on to say that the German, Menz, had had a festering wound on his right leg and died before their very eyes.
South Africans have denied any knowledge of the coup, saying that they were in Equatorial Guinea for fishing contracts.
Du Toit admitted that Mann had approached him for help in the coup, but argues that he refused. The statements were pieced together after investigators spoke to the alleged mercenaries captured in Harare, argued Du Toit.
"I came here for business and if this country can sort out its politics then we will return to do business," he said.
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