By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday effectively denied reports that a team of investigators from Equatorial Guinea has arrived in Yerevan to gather more information about six Armenians accused of involvement in an alleged plot to topple the central African state’s longtime ruler.
Agence Frace Presse quoted on Saturday an unnamed “legal official” in the country’s capital Malabo as saying that the investigators are currently in Armenia to probe links between the suspected coup plotters and an Armenian airline whose pilots have been kept in Equato-Guinean custody since March.
“Nobody [from Equatorial Guinea] has approached the Foreign Ministry and our diplomats abroad with such a request,” the ministry spokesman, Hamlet Gasparian, told RFE/RL. “We are now trying to verify the information.”
Gasparian suggested that if the Equato-Guinean government indeed had such intentions Armenian diplomats, notably the country’s ambassador to Egypt who has been personally monitoring the court hearings in Malabo, would have almost certainly been aware of them.
The six arrested Armenians are the flight crew of an Antonov-12 cargo plane belonging to the Yerevan-based Tiga Air company. They were arrested on coup charges along with nine other foreigners. The group went on trial in Malabo late last month.
One of those arrested, Gerhard Eugen Merz, was a representative of a German company that hired the Antonov-12. Merz died days after his arrest, officially from cerebral malaria. But human rights groups say he was tortured to death.
All Armenian defendants have denied any involvement in the alleged plot to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, saying that they were unaware of what their payload was to have been. Their protestations of innocence are strongly backed by official Yerevan which has repeatedly called for their release. However, the chief prosecutor of the oil-rich former Spanish colony insisted at the trial that they helped to prepare for “the mercenaries' action.”
The Antonov and its Armenian crew arrived in Equatorial Guinea in January and made only one flight before the arrests.
Obiang’s regime maintains that the alleged conspiracy was hatched by another defendant, South African businessman Nick du Toit. The charges brought against him carry a death penalty.
The arrests of du Toit and the 14 other men were announced days before some 70 men were detained when their plane stopped off in Zimbabwe. According to authorities there, they were mercenaries bound for Equatorial Guinea.
The case acquired a broader international dimension with the house arrest in South Africa late last month of Mark Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He is also suspected of having a hand in the alleged plot.