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Friends welcome Simon Mann's release
Alleged conspirators in the failed coup in Equatorial Guinea today welcomed Simon Mann's release as the Metropolitan Police confirmed it is continuing an investigation which could ultimately lead to some of them facing trial in British courts with Mann as a key prosecution witness.

Sir Mark Thatcher, who was convicted in a South African court of helping fund Mann's operation and given a suspended sentence, said he was "absolutely delighted that Simon will be reunited with his family at last". Greg Wales, a London-based property dealer who was named by the attorney general of Equatorial Guinea among the alleged of co-conspirators, said he was "very happy at last that my good friends in Equatorial Guinea have treated my good friend Simon Mann, with such humanity". Wales has strenuously denied any involvement in the plot.

Scotland Yard last night would not name individuals involved in its ongoing investigation into whether "offences may have been discussed in this country" in relation to the failed coup. Mann has claimed that some of the planning meetings took place in London. Since July 2008, officers from the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism command have spent a total of 24 days in three separate trips to Equitorial Guinea conducting interviews with Mann and investigating the case. The London-based, Lebanese-born oil tycoon, Ely Calil, also was named by the Equatorial Guinea government as one of the plot's leaders and Mann is reported to have told detectives about coup plotting meetings which took place at Calil's London home.

It was reported this spring that Scotland Yard officers had passed files to the Crown Prosecution Service and were encouraged to seek Mann's return, to help any possible prosecution.

"We are liaising with the police and this is still a matter of investigation," a spokeswoman for the CPS said tonight.

Tonight, Thatcher, who was at his home in Spain, said he has never been interviewed by the Metropolitan Police, adding through a spokesman: "It is not as if I am difficult to find." Neither has anyone from the government of Equatorial Guinea been in contact with him about their own demands for him to face justice, he said.

A year ago, the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang, set out what it would take for Mann to be released.

"If the British police arrest the people we say were also involved - Ely Calil, Mark Thatcher and others - and bring them to court then, maybe, we will transfer Simon to an English jail so he can be close to his family," he said.

A source close to the Equatorial Guinea government said the country's leadership released Mann because he had been "sufficiently punished and has co-operated well, in particular he gave a number of statements to Scotland Yard detectives while in Black Beach prison".

He said the president took into account the succession of operations undergone by Mann on a painful hernia in his lower abdomen which is still giving him some trouble.

"I think this is the end for Simon Mann, in terms of legal actions," the source said. "The loose ends are Eli Calil and Greg Wales. They could face a criminal action for terrorism related offences. Scotland Yard has gathered large amounts of evidence on the question of funding [the coup]. If it was clear that what Thatcher had done was worse than that for which he was convicted in South Africa, then there is a chance he could face further action, but that is a slim chance."

Wales said today he was involved in several months of discussions with the government of Equatorial Guinea through its embassy in London about managing Mann's release.

"The reason they were taking to me was they had tried to talk to the UK Foreign Office but they were unwilling to discuss it," he said. "We talked about what they wanted to do with Mr Mann and how it might be effected."

Calil has admitted he supported regime change in Equatorial Guinea and financed plans by its exiled president Severo Moto to return but added: "I am not a coup planner".

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  • Pardoned Briton's joy at return
    Simon Mann: "I am very, very grateful for this pardon"

    Former British soldier Simon Mann has expressed his joy at being freed from prison in Equatorial Guinea and said it is "the best early Christmas present".

    Mann, 57, arrived at Luton airport after being pardoned and released from a 34-year jail term in the African state for his part in a coup plot.

    In a statement, he said it was "the most wonderful homecoming".

    He also said he was looking forward to meeting his son Arthur - born while he was in prison - for the first time.

    Mann's spokesman, Ian Monk, read a statement from him in which he said he had spent "five-and-a-half tough years" in prison "much of it in solitary confinement".

    "There hasn't been a moment in the last five-and-a-half years when I have not dreamt of being back in Britain with my family," he said.

    "I'm hugely grateful to President Obiang for releasing me. It's the best, best early Christmas present I could have possible ever imagined."

    'A pawn'

    Mann was arrested in Zimbabwe in March 2004, along with 63 others, after they flew in from South Africa.

    They were suspected of being mercenaries intent on toppling Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

    Mann served three years in a Zimbabwean jail before being extradited to Equatorial Guinea in 2008 where he was tried and convicted.

    He admitted conspiring to oust President Obiang, but said he had only been "a pawn" in the plot.

    On Tuesday the president pardoned and released him on humanitarian grounds, citing his health - Mann had a hernia operation last year.

    Before leaving Equatorial Guinea, Mann, who used to live in Beaulieu, Hampshire, expressed regret for his part in the foiled coup.

    "It was wrong and I'm happy that we did not succeed," he said.

    'Face justice'

    The former SAS soldier also reiterated his claims that London-based Lebanese millionaire Ely Calil and Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had been involved in the plot.

    "I am very anxious that Calil, Thatcher and one or two of the others should face justice," he said.

    Sir Mark, who now lives in southern Spain, was fined and received a suspended sentence in South Africa in 2005 for unknowingly helping to finance the plot.

    He said on Tuesday he was "delighted" to learn of Mann's release. Mr Calil, who denies any wrongdoing, also said he was "thrilled" at the news.

    The Metropolitan Police have confirmed they are investigating whether any offences relating to the coup plot could have been committed in the UK.

    Shadow justice minister Henry Bellingham, who is a friend of Mann, told the BBC he understood those negotiating on his behalf had sought to convince President Obiang that releasing the Briton could help his country's international standing.

    "Equatorial Guinea has come quite a long way in terms of rebuilding its reputation as being a pariah state... and it wants to have a close relationship with Britain, with America," he said.

    "Obviously, I think, to an extent, Simon Mann was becoming an embarrassment to the government," he said.

    Mr Bellingham said he did not "for one moment condone" what Mann had done, but had argued he "deserved a fair hearing" which he did not get in either Zimbabwe or Equatorial Guinea.

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