Monday, September 27, 2004

Pentagon Linked to Guinea Coup Plot

Pentagon link to Guinea coup plot
Bush official was warned of trouble brewing in oil-rich state
David Leigh, David Pallister and Jamie Wilson
Monday September 27, 2004
The Guardian

Links have been discovered between senior American military officials and
the failed coup plot in Equatorial Guinea that has left Sir Mark Thatcher
facing trial in South Africa.

Theresa Whelan, a member of the Bush administration in charge of African
affairs at the Pentagon, twice met a London-based businessman, Greg Wales,
in Washington before the coup attempt. Mr Wales has been accused of being
one of its organisers, but has denied any involvement.

A US defence official told Newsweek magazine yesterday: "Mr Wales
mentioned in passing _ there might be some trouble brewing in Equatorial
Guinea. Specifically, he had heard from some business associates of his
that wealthy citizens of the country were planning to flee in case of a
crisis."

The regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema in oil-rich Equatorial
Guinea has accused the US of backing the plot, but the Pentagon denies
supporting it. US officials say it was Mr Wales who made all the
approaches to them.

Equatorial Guinea official sources claim that last November, when the plot
was in its early stages, an Old Etonian mercenary, Simon Mann, paid Mr
Wales about $8,000. Mann was subsequently jailed for seven years in
Zimbabwe on charges linked to the coup plot.

A few days after the alleged payment, Mr Wales went to Washington for a
dinner and conference organised by an influential group of US "private
military companies", the IPOA (International Peace Operations
Association).

Ms Whelan told the group the Pentagon was keen to see them operate in
Africa, saying: "Contractors are here to stay in supporting US national
security objectives overseas." They were cheaper, and saved the use of US
forces in peacekeeping and training.

She added: "The US can be supportive in trying to ameliorate regional
crises without necessarily having to put US troops on the ground, which is
often a very difficult political decision _ Sometimes we may not want to
be very visible."

IPOA's members include MPRI, a company formed by retired generals. MPRI
had already been allowed to compile a survey of Equatorial Guinea's
military weaknesses on President Obiang's behalf, overcoming initial
objections by the Clinton administration that it would help prop up a
dictator.

MPRI persuaded the Pentagon it would be in the US national interest to
allow the survey to be done, although the company never went ahead with a
planned contract to strengthen Mr Obiang's army.

Mr Wales made his first contact with Ms Whelan at the dinner. The
following January his firm, the Sherbourne Foundation, was paid another
$35,000 by the coup plotters, according to Equatorial Guinea.

Mr Wales then organised another meeting at the Pentagon with Ms Whelan.
This came on the eve of the day originally planned for the coup, February
19. The Pentagon says the meeting in "mid-to-late February" ranged over
many African topics, and that Mr Wales's hints were so general that they
did not call for any action to be taken.

Mr Wales, who denies any involvement in the coup plot, has refused to
comment on any of these fresh allegations.

The Obiang regime has complained that the US did not warn it of the coup
plot, although it received intelligence from South Africa.

The February 19 plan is said to have been aborted after a hired aircraft
broke down. The plotters then acquired an old former US Air National Guard
Boeing, built to a military specification, that was flown over from Kansas
with a crew from Florida for a second coup attempt. But the seller, the US
firm Dodson Aviation, says there was no US government involvement in the
deal.

Both the US and Britain have extensive oil interests in Equatorial Guinea
which, in the words of one US official, is "the new Kuwait".

The Texas company Marathon is building a huge liquefied natural gas plant,
of which the British gas firm BG plans to buy much of the output for the
next 17 years.

There is a good deal of unofficial sympathy in US military circles for the
coup plotters. One of those present at the original IPOA dinner said
yesterday, requesting anonymity: "Ethically, you have to want to see
Obiang removed.

"It's a real indictment of the international community that they've failed
to get rid of him."