The head of the defence team for 70 suspected mercenaries accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea has withdrawn from the case, his associates said on Wednesday.
Veteran South African attorney Francois Joubert, a specialist in security and terrorism cases, "is no longer a member of the defence team", said fellow lawyer Alwyn Griebenow.
He refused to give a reason. Joubert was not immediately available for comment.
The BBC has a profile of Simon Mann in which they quote from a letter he wrote:
If proven, the charges against them could lead to deportation, decades in detention or a possible death sentence.
Mr Mann, a veteran of several wars, is understandably unnerved.
In a letter smuggled out of his prison cell and quoted by British newspapers, the former British soldier says only "major clout" can save him.
He says they would be doomed if they got "into a real trial scenario".
I agree with Mann's assessment of his situation. I am of two minds about his trial. On the one hand, I believe everyone should have a fair trial and I am opposed to the death penalty, and Zimbabwe would not be high on my list of places I would choose to stand trial. But on the other hand, this trial is one of the few forces working against the pernicious trend toward military privatization.
Meanwhile, someone has been attempting to blackmail Margaret Thatcher's son regarding his relationship with Mann. The telegraph reports "The would-be blackmailers are believed to be linked to Afrikaner members of the alleged mercenary gang who have fallen out with Mr Mann since their arrest in Harare." I'm not sure I understand this quite. Are they saying that friends of the mercenaries imprisoned with Mann are angry at Mann and are trying to blackmail Thatcher?
The Telegraph further reports that a letter from Mann smuggled out of the prison was addressed to "Scratcher":
Mr Mann had smuggled a letter out of his Harare prison cell asking for help from "Scratcher", understood to be rhyming slang for Thatcher.
Is this the same letter quoted from above? How interesting.
A confidential letter smuggled out of Mann's tiny solitary confinement cell to his wife and legal team pleads for help from a host of friends including the two he calls 'Scratcher' and 'Smelly'.
South African sources close to Mann's circle claim that Scratcher is none other than Sir Mark Thatcher, the controversial son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Mark has a home close to Mann's in a luxury suburb of Cape Town and is now reputedly worth £60m from a string of ventures in America and the Middle East.
And the nickname 'Smelly' is believed to refer to Ely Calil, the Chelsea-based millionaire oil trader, who is accused by the Equatorial Guinean government of helping to organise the coup from his home in West London. Calil is a friend and one-time financial adviser to the disgraced Tory peer, Lord Archer.
Mann's letter, dated 21 March, states: 'Our situation is not good and it is very urgent. They [the lawyers] get no reply from Smelly and Scratcher [who] asked them to ring back after the Grand Prix race was over! This is not going well.'
Later he writes: 'I must say once again: what will get us out is major clout. We need heavy influence of the sort that Smelly, Scratcher, David Hart and it needs to be used heavily and now. Once we get into a real trial scenario we are f****d'. (Even in solitary confinement in the notorious Chikurubi prison, Mann's upper-class British background apparently prevents him from swearing on the page despite the desperate situation he faces).
But the reference to Hart has also intrigued British lawyers acting for Obiang. On behalf of the dictator, law firm Penningtons has launched a multi-million-dollar civil action for damages in Britain against Calil and Mann for conspiring to try to murder their client.
Hart is the former Old Etonian millionaire adviser to Margaret Thatcher and was her chief enforcer during the 1984 miners' strike. He also served as a special adviser to Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind when they were ministers under previous Tory governments. Hart is known to have excellent access to the US administration and worked closely with CIA boss Bill Casey in the early and mid-1980s. More recently he has worked as a middle man for a number of defence contractors.
Here's the question that comes to my mind: Why does he think these people will be willing to help him? Because they're buddies and will do anything to get a friend out of trouble? When does this cross the line into a situation in which help is expected because there was some kind of prior approval and support? And whose approval and support might this be? Can this get any curiouser?
AND here's a tidbit I missed, in the paid sub part of the Financial Times:
Dyncorp, the Texas-based private military contractor, is seeking to overturn the largest private security deal in Iraq, claiming that the contract was improperly awarded.
The US army surprised many in the industry last month when it awarded a $293m (237m, £158m) contract to co-ordinate private security companies in Iraq to Aegis Defence Services - a small UK start-up with no experience in Iraq. More controversially, the company is run by Tim Spicer, a former British army officer who was at the centre of a political scandal in the UK during the late 1990s.
Dyncorp, which lost out on the contract, has a long and close relationship with the US government, performing a range of tasks including guarding military compounds and training the Iraqi police.
Dyncorp has submitted a formal protest to the audit arm of the US Congress, the Government Accountability Office, which will rule on the dispute by September 30.
In its complaint, a copy of which was obtained the Financial Times, Dyncorp draws attention to Mr Spicer's past involvement in the "Sandline affair" of 1998, in which a company he was director of sold arms to Sierra Leone in contravention of a United Nations embargo.