IN a major policy U-turn Zimbabwe has agreed to extradite to Equatorial Guinea 70 men accused of plotting a coup against President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, official sources said last night. This follows a meeting between Obiang and Presiden
t Mugabe in Bulawayo on Wednesday.
The Government Gazette last Friday carried details of the Statutory Instrument that added Equatorial Guinea to the list of countries with which Zimbabwe has extradition agreements, making such a transfer possible.
Last week the Zimbabwe Independent revealed that the Equatorial Guinea government wanted the accused men taken to that country to face trial. But Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi said that would not happen until their Harare trial was over.
Senior attorneys in Harare yesterday said the about-turn by the government had been motivated in part by the state’s failure to produce firm evidence to support the prosecution.
This week state prosecutors struggled with the case when they came up against a more experienced defence team led by South African Advocates Francois Joubert and Alwyn Griebenow, instructed by Jonathan Samkange.Mohadi said last week that extradition would only take place after the men had been convicted.
“It (the extradition) would be after conviction,” Mohadi told the Independent. “The men have to be tried first and if they are convicted, it is up to the Ministry of Justice to make that decision.”
It appears the government anticipated the outcome of the meeting between Mugabe and Obiang Nguema but it is still not clear when or if the men will be transferred.
Samkange yesterday said despite the extradition agreement between the two countries, his clients still had a right to refuse to be extradited.
“It is important to note that the affected individual can agree or disagree to be taken to another country,” he said.
The 70 men, all of whom were travelling on South African passports, were arrested on March 7 at Harare International Airport when their Boeing 727 stopped to refuel and pick up military equipment.
The Zimbabwe authorities arrested the men, claiming they were on their way to join 15 suspected mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea on similar charges of plotting to overthrow Obiang who himself came to power in a bloody coup against his uncle.
South African Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa yesterday said the request to extradite the men had nothing to do with his government.
“That is an agreement between two sovereign states and it has nothing to do with South Africa,” he said.
However, South Africa’s deputy head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Advocate Jan Henning, who was part of the delegation invited to Equatorial Guinea in March to help compile a case against the men arrested there, recommended South Africa distance itself from any prosecution.
“As a prosecuting authority, we cannot become involved in what we see as an unfair legal process,” Henning said. He said the prisoners in Equatorial Guinea had wounds consistent with assault and torture.
The court will today hear submissions from the state and the defence in an application by lawyers representing the 70 men to have them removed from remand. – Staff Writer.