Harare — THE 70 suspected mercenaries who were arrested in Harare early this month in connection with the foiled coup in the Equatorial Guinea yesterday appeared briefly before a court convened at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.
The suspects, who are facing five charges under the Public Order and Security, Firearms, and Immigration Acts, were not asked to plead when they appeared before magistrate Mr Mishrod Guvamombe.
They were remanded to April 13, when their lawyers are expected to make an application for refusal of remand.
The suspects, made up of 10 whites, two coloureds and 58 blacks all clad in new prison garb, drew the attention of the people who thronged the prison to witness the proceedings, as they walked from the cells to the special court.
They were walking in pairs, with their hands and legs shackled. They sat in court in rows with most of them grinning all the time as they engaged in discussions with their lawyers, before the proceedings started.
Mrs Mary Zimba-Dube of the Attorney General's Office read the indictments to the court.
On the first count, Mrs Zimba-Dube told the court that the suspected mercenaries were charged with breaching the Public Order and Security Act, which provide a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment on conviction.
She alleged that in June 2003, Simon Francis Mann was contracted by Severo Moto, an exiled opposition political leader from the Equatorial Guinea, to assist him in toppling the current president of that country by a violent coup.
She alleged that Mann and Nick Du Toit, who is still at large, recruited 69 men with military backgrounds to carry out the task.
The 70 suspects allegedly conspired and agreed to possess dangerous weapons, which were to be used in carrying out the task.
In furtherance of their agreement, it is alleged, they underwent vigorous refresher courses in weapon handling and urban warfare.
On February 10 this year, Mann and Du Toit came to Zimbabwe Defence Industries and purchased dangerous weapons that included 61 AK rifles, 300 offensive hand grenades, 45 000 AK ammunition rounds, 20 PKM light machine guns, 30 000 PKM ammunition rounds, 100 RPG 7 anti-tank launchers, two 60mm mortar tubes, 5 080 60mm mortar bombs, 20 Icarus flares, 500 boxes of 7.62 by 54mm ammunition, 1 000 boxes of 7.62 by 39mm ammunition, 1 000 rounds of RPG anti-tank HE ammunition and 50 PRM machine guns.
The State further alleged that on March 6 this year, Mann, Laurens Jacobus Horne and Jacob Hermunus Carlse came to Zimbabwe as an advance team to finalise the collection of the dangerous weapons that were going to be collected on the following day.
On that day, it is alleged the remaining 67 suspects aboard a Boeing 727 aircraft marked N4610 landed at Harare International Airport to collect the weapons.
"Before they could conduct pre-loading inspection of the weapons, the accused were arrested. The accused unlawfully attempted to possess the aforesaid weapons," said Mrs Zimba-Dube.
Under the Firearms Act, the suspects face two counts. They were charged with conspiracy to purchase and possess firearms without a firearm certificate and conspiracy to purchase and possess ammunition without a certificate.
It is alleged the suspects conspired to carry out a coup in the West African state and arranged and purchased arms from the ZDI in Zimbabwe.
On March 7 the plane belonging to Dodson Aviation, South Africa left Pelokwane Airport in South Africa for Zimbabwe. On board were three crew members and 64 passengers, the State alleges.
It is alleged that on arrival at Harare International Airport, the suspects refuelled their plane and proceeded to Manyame Airbase where they intended to collect arms and ammunition that included 10 Browning pistols and 20 Icarus flares.
According to the State, the arms and ammunition had been purchased on February 10 by Mann and Du Toit. Mann was not aboard the plane, but had come to Zimbabwe in March as part of the advance team with Carles and Horne.
The three - Mann, Carles and Horne - are facing separate charges for allegedly planning to acquire the weapons, arm the mercenaries and proceed to Equatorial Guinea to launch the coup.
It is alleged that they failed to show firearms certificates for the arms and ammunition, when they were asked to do so upon their arrest.
For breaching the Immigration Act, the suspects are facing charges of "entering or assisting any person remaining in or departing from Zimbabwe and making false statements".
The 67 men who were aboard the plane that was impounded by security authorities are from Britain, South Africa, Angola, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and one Zimbabwean.
It is alleged the crew had no manifest of passengers and they falsely gave out that they were carrying cargo.
They also misrepresented to the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe that there were only three crew members and four loaders on board, the State alleges
The passengers, alleged the State, had specific instructions to switch off the lights after landing, remain still and not to allow people to enter the plane to avoid detection.
"As a result of false declaration, the passengers and crew members managed to enter Zimbabwe without the knowledge of immigration officials," said Mrs Zimba-Dube.
"Investigations have revealed that the 64 passengers were mercenaries on their way to Equatorial Guinea to carry out a coup d'etat. The accused also purchased and attempted to acquire ammunition and firearms from Zimbabwe Defence Industries without a firearm certificate."
The suspects were also charged with contravening the Aviation (Air Navigation) Regulations, by allegedly making a false statement or declaration to a CAAZ official.
The proceedings were conducted at Chikurubi following a High Court ruling on Monday that the maximum security prison was the only compromise venue for such a case.
Mr Jonathan Samkange of Byron Venturas and Partners represented the 70.
Earlier on, Mr Samkange told the court that his clients were assaulted by the military police on the day they were arrested.
He, however, said he had no complaints against the police and the prison authorities, who he said had treated his clients well.