Who is Simon Mann?

The British mercenary Simon Mann was freed from jail in Equatorial Guinea today after having been sentenced to 34 years for trying to overthrow the country's government. He served less than two years.

By , Correspondent

Born: June 1952

Background: Mann comes from a wealthy British family that inherited a brewery fortune. Mann attended an elite British military academy and served with British SAS forces in Northern Ireland, Central America, and Europe. After leaving the military in the 1980s, he began a career providing security services in conflict zones.

Arrested: In Zimbabwe in 2004, Mann was accused of beginning a coup to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, a former colony of Spain. The coup plotters wanted to install an opposition leader living in Madrid, Severo Moto, in power. Mark Thatcher, son of the former British prime minister, pleaded guilty in South Africa to unwittingly financing the coup and was fined. If successful, Mann was reportedly going to receive a $15 million success fee and security contracts, according to The Times, a London-based daily.

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He was extradited from Zimbabwe in 2008 and sent to prison for 34 years in Equatorial Guinea. He left jail today and was pardoned, along with four other coup plotters, for what the government calls “humanitarian reasons.” Mann now has 24 hours to leave the country.

Who was Mann trying to overthrow? President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo came to power in a 1979 coup. He began to hold multiparty elections in 1996 under international pressure. He has won every time, though opponents say they are rigged to favor his party.

Mr. Obiang was invited to the White House in 2006 and called a “good friend” by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea hosts the operations of several US companies, including Exxon Mobil, ChevronTexaco, Devon Energy, Amerada Hess, CMS Energy Corp., and Marathon Oil.

Silver screen: Mann played a British officer in the 2002 film “Bloody Sunday” about when British troops fired on and killed 13 protestors in Northern Ireland in 1972. See trailer below.

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Is the president of Equatorial Guinea worse than the British mercenary he pardoned?

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – who today pardoned Simon Mann – is widely seen as one of Africa’s most corrupt leaders. But will oil interests prevent a shift in US policy? Read our special report.

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