Sir James Manson, one of the organizers of the conspiracy in Forsyth's novel, explains why he preferred to be involved in an African coup rather than in regular criminal activity in Britain: "Knocking off a bank or an armored truck is merely crude. Knocking off an entire republic has, I feel, a certain style." Is Sir Mark Thatcher the incarnation of the fictitious Sir James? Was Thatcher one of the chief conspirators? That is what the government of President Obiang would like to know.
The president and his aides do not believe that Severo Moto, the opposition leader, was behind the coup. They think he was a pawn in the hands of forces and interests stronger than him - probably businessmen and perhaps Western governments. One of the names mentioned in this connection is that of the British-Lebanese financier and oil broker Eli Calil. Recently, with the help of the testimony of the South African pilot of the plane that was detained in Zimbabwe, more details have emerged about the involvement of the organizers of the revolt.
The pilot, Crause Steyl, related that he met in December 2003 with Thatcher and Mann in a suburb of Cape Town. Thatcher, who has a pilot's license, asked him to purchase a helicopter and take it up for a test flight himself. In January 2004, Thatcher transferred $275,000 to Steyl's account in two installments. According to a report in the British daily The Guardian, Calil underwrote the coup to the tune of $2 million.
Suspicions about the involvement of hidden forces grew after the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, disclosed several surprising details in the House of Commons. About three months ago, Straw confirmed that in February 2004, about a month before the arrest of the plotters, the Foreign Office received information about a planned coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.
Straw declined to elaborate, but the media and MPs discovered that in February 2004 Spicer had a lengthy conversation with a senior official in the Foreign Office. What the subject of their talk was can only be surmised. Was Spicer warned not to carry out the coup - or, on the contrary, did he coordinate his moves with the government?
An interesting development occurred last week. A court on the Isle of Guernsey (one of the best-known tax shelters in the world) rejected the request of the government of Equatorial Africa to provide it with details of bank accounts held by Simon Mann, from which, it is suspected, the money to finance the coup was transferred. Mann's lawyers opposed the request and denied, in Mann's name, that he had been involved in the plot. They said Mann had not been in contact with Thatcher and that his confession, in which he confirmed to the interrogators in Zimbabwe that he had organized the coup, was extracted under torture. This contradicts a letter Mann smuggled out of prison shortly after his arrest, in which he intimated that if his friends, including "Scratcher" (which everyone understood meant Thatcher) did not come to his aid, he would talk.
In the meantime, the affair, which refuses to fade away, has now spread to Germany, because of the physician from Botswana, Dr. Alexander von Paleske.
Alexander von Paleske, 58, was born in Lipstadt, Germany. He served in the German army, studied law at the University of Frankfurt, clerked in the Supreme Court of the State of Hessen, and then worked in a private law firm while also studying medicine. Following his studies in the faculty of medicine at the University of Frankfurt, he worked in several hospitals in Germany. In 1987 he moved to Zimbabwe, where he worked for 14 years in a hospital in Bulawayo, the country's second-largest city. About four years ago he moved to Botswana, because the situation in Zimbabwe under the despotic regime of Robert Mugabe - which constantly violates human rights, infringes on the freedom of whites and restricts individual freedoms - had become intolerable for him. Botswana, in contrast, with fewer than two million inhabitants, is considered one of the most stable countries in Africa and has a reasonably democratic regime.
Von Paleske is convinced that the German government, like the British government, wants to get the subject removed from the public agenda to avoid the revelation of embarrassing details. Those details refer to Gerhard Merz, a German and one of the mercenaries who was arrested in Equatorial Guinea. Even though the German foreign ministry received a report that a German citizen had been arrested, the ministry took its time in sending a German diplomat to Equatorial Guinea.
On March 17, about 10 days after his arrest, Merz died in hospital. The physicians listed the cause of death as malaria. In June 2004 his body was flown to Frankfurt and buried there. With the exception of a brief, incidental report in the daily Frankfurter Rundschau about Merz's death, the media took no interest in the case and the German government assumed that this was the tragic end of the affair.
Von Paleske, though, thought otherwise. He suspected that Merz had died after being tortured by the interrogators. In an interview from his home in Gaborone, he confirms that his motivation is more to reawaken the affair in Germany than to express anger at what he calls "the murder of Merz," and therefore he filed a complaint with the federal prosecutor in Berlin. Von Paleske wanted the circumstances of Merz's death clarified and to that end requested that the body be exhumed.
The prosecutor in Frankfurt, Eberhard Galm, acceded to the request. The autopsy, which was performed recently at the forensic institute of the Frankfurt University Hospital, revealed that Merz had died of heart complications and not of malaria, as the authorities in Equatorial Guinea claimed. A spokeswoman for the German prosecution confirmed to Haaretz that in the wake of the new findings, "we are continuing the investigation to clarify the causes of his death, despite the difficulties." Dr. Von Paleske promises not to let the German authorities evade an exhaustive investigation of the case.
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