From Sat Oct 9 16:45:15 2004
Date: Fri, 8 Oct 2004 19:03:06 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: [NYTr] Pentagon Links Found to Guinea Coup Plot
Article: 192694
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Pentagon Links Found to Guinea Coup Plot

By David Leigh, David Pallister and Jamie Wilson, The Guardian (UK), 8 October 2004

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: “Mr Wales mentioned in passing… there might be some trouble brewing in Equatorial Guinea. Specifically, he had heard from 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 later 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 a group of US “private military companies”, the IPOA (International Peace Operations Association). Ms Whelan told the group that the Pentagon was keen to see it 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 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 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, 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 refused to comment on any of these fresh allegations.

Both the US and Britain have extensive oil interests in Equatorial Guinea.