MNT = "Miafrika Ndivyo Tulivyo" by Nyani Ngabu, aka Julius! Coup plotter Simon Mann pardoned by Equatorial Guinea Simon Mann, the former SAS officer jailed for 34 years for plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea, has been pardoned on health grounds. News of the mercenary's impending release from prison in the tiny, oil-rich West African country, where he has been imprisoned for 18 months, was posted on the website of Equatorial Guinea's Ministry of Information this morning. The pardon was allowed for by presidential decree and granted on humanitarian grounds, the statement said, citing Manns need for medical treatment and to be with his family. It added that Mann, 57, had "shown sufficient and credible signs of repentance and a desire to take his place in society. A decree was read on national radio in Equatorial Guinea this morning saying that a total amnesty had been granted to Mann. Mann must leave Equatorial Guinea within 24 hours and is banned from returning to the country, it said. Nick Du Toit, a South African arms dealer who was sentenced to 34 years for his part in the plot, was also pardoned today. Three others are understood to have been granted clemency. The Foreign Office said that it was aware of the reports and was trying to clarify them, although it was "an issue for the Equatorial Guinea authorities at this stage". Mann, an Old Etonian and heir to a brewery fortune, led a group of more than 60 mainly South African mercenaries that in March 2004 was planning to seize control of the state, replacing President Teodoro Obiang Nguema with Severo Moto, an opposition leader living in exile in Madrid. The plot gained notoriety for allegedly involving Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of former prime minister Baroness Thatcher, and being bankrolled by Eli Calil, a reclusive London tycoon. In a separate trial in South Africa, Sir Mark was given a suspended sentence in relation to the funding of Manns operation, though he continued to deny any knowledge of the plot. Mann's share of the spoils if the plotters had got their hands on Equatorial Guinea's oil wealth was to have been a $15 million (£9 million) success fee plus lucrative security contracts. The coup failed before it got off the ground, however, when Mann and his soldiers of fortune were arrested at Harare airport in Zimbabwe on their way to Equatorial Guinea. Mann spent four years in Zimbabwe's notorious Chikurubi jail before being extradited to stand trial in Equatorial Guinea in January last year. He was placed on remand in Black Beach prison, which has a reputation just as fearsome as Chikurubi's, prompting his wife and seven children to voice fears that he would die in custody. But when the case came to court, the tables were turned. Rumours abounded that Mann had cut a deal with Mr Obiang for an early pardon as it became clear that he was co-operating with the prosecution case. Mann pleaded guilty and implicated Sir Mark, insisting that he was part of the "management team" and not an unwitting financier as Sir Mark had alleged. He also pointed the finger at Mr Calil, who he said was the frontman for a shadowy group of powerful figures who were still determined to seize control of the state. He also said that the governments of Spain and South Africa had sanctioned the plot. He even went so far as to say he was happy that the coup had failed because he now realised that Equatorial Guinea was a pleasant place and that he had been well treated in Black Beach prison. In a show of toughness, the judge sentenced Mann to 34 years and four months, two more than the 32 years that the prosecution had asked for. But with news of Mann's release now public, it appears that Mr Obiang has honoured a private promise that Mann's actual sentence would be lenient. Source: The Times.