HARARE, Zimbabwe -- A former British special forces operative who allegedly led a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea was convicted yesterday of trying to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.
Sixty-six other suspected mercenaries were acquitted of the charge in connection to a deal that officials initially said aimed to get weapons for the planned coup plot, though the judge did not link them in his ruling yesterday.
The convicted suspect, Simon Mann -- an alumnus of the exclusive boarding school Eton, a former member of the British special forces, and a onetime movie actor -- admitted trying to buy weapons from the Zimbabwe Defense Industries, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Mann, however, contended the weapons, which included assault rifles, grenades, antitank rocket launchers, and other arms, were for a job protecting a mining operation in war-torn eastern Congo.
Nineteen people, including a number of South Africans, are on trial in the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea for the alleged coup plot. Officials say the country's Spanish-based rebel leader, Severo Moto, offered the mercenaries $1.8 million and oil rights to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
Equatorial Guinea prosecutors said yesterday that they were also seeking to extradite Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who is under house arrest in South Africa for allegedly providing financing for the plot.
The chief magistrate in the trial of Mann and the others in Zimbabwe mentioned no link between the attempted arms purchase and the coup plot.