06 November 2011 - 04:50 By Rowan Philip

SIMON Mann once owned an airline and used a Russian KGB seductress and a basket of fruit to get his hands on some of the world's most powerful non-nuclear bombs.

And South Africa's National Intelligence Agency - along with "right-wing fantasist" Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher - supported Mann's bid to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea in 2004.

These are among the claims made by the British mercenary in a tell-all book, Cry Havoc, to be released in the next two weeks.

Mann, now 59, co-founded the notorious Executive Outcomes private army. He was arrested in Zimbabwe seven years ago with 69 other mercenaries while en route to oust Obiang Nguema, president of the oil-rich nation of Equatorial Guinea.

After spending four years in jail in Zimbabwe, Mann was sent to Equatorial Guinea, tried and, after about a year in prison, granted a presidential pardon.

Mark Thatcher was fined in 2005 for his role as an investor in the failed coup - although he denied involvement, saying he had believed he was buying aircraft for medical rescue operations.

But in his book - published by Jonathan Ball in South Africa - Mann claims Thatcher was in charge of "our escape and evasion plan". He wrote that Thatcher had planned to exploit opportunities in Equatorial Guinea once Obiang was out of the way.

Thatcher, described as a "right-wing fantasist" had "run away and left me", said Mann.

Amid references to "dragons" and "slaying", Mann wrote: "I made two fortunes winning the Angolan civil war and I spent one of them winning another: the Sierra Leone civil war."

He also described how, as he raced his BMW motorbike through the streets of London to meet Amanda, the woman he would later marry, he thought: "All I have to do now is slay [Angolan rebel group] Unita, win the gold and woo the girl."

The former British special forces soldier describes a wild and often wacky James Bond-style career.

He says he was nearly devoured by crocodiles in Zimbabwe and once drove an Aston Martin DB5, the car made famous by 007, from China to Paris.

Mann planned to install opposition leader Severo Moto as Equatorial Guinea's new president - after forcing the exiled politician to parachute into the ocean to be picked up by boat.

"I look forward to telling Severo - in flight - that he will be leaving the aircraft before it lands," the old Etonian wrote.

A South African agent was supposed to take over the Malabo airport in the first stage of the coup.

The plan for Mann''s arrival in Equatorial Guinea was the following: "What happens if we get ambushed on landing?

"In Joburg we decided that if [the agent] is compromised, we'll just fly in anyway; we'll crash land if we have to."

More serious are Mann's claims to have run two wars in Africa, using soldiers drawn from South Africa's apartheid-era hit squad, the CCB.

He also had a private air force of 19 planes, including fighter jets whose "intercepts" were officially credited to the governments who paid him.

Mann says the commercial airline Ibis, which operated from what is now OR Tambo International Airport in the mid 1990s, was his own, and that all of its passengers were mercenaries being taken to the frontlines in Angola and Sierra Leone.

"In the hustle and bustle of Joburg International, nobody noticed ... the passengers were all young or middle-aged [men] - every passenger looked unusually fit. Their luggage, rucksacks, never a suitcase, were often dark green."

Mann claims he ended, and won, the Angolan civil war in 1994 by using South African mercenaries to rout the rebel group Unita.

Then he secured and exploded one of the world's most powerful non-nuclear bombs as a warning to them.

He said the United Nations congratulated the Angolan government for only using the deadly Russian bomb as a warning.

Mann claimed he conned Russian authorities into selling him 20 of the giant bombs by bribing an ailing colonel with vodka and a fruit basket. He was introduced to the colonel through an ex-KGB "seductress".

Mann said his original band of 60 South African mercenaries had won a fierce week-long battle with Unita to take the Angolan oil port of Soyo.

"To Unita fighters, the South Africans' durability and courage had reached mythical status," he wrote. "Unita's attacks crashed into the Boers one after another."

Some of Mann's claims are corroborated in UK journalist Adam Roberts's book, The Wonga Coup - particularly the fact that the coup plan was the worst-kept secret in the intelligence world.

But the mercenary makes no mention of Roberts's claim that Mann had a secret contract which would see him earn over R100-million.

Mann further wrote that not only did the coup plan have the "tacit" support of both the US and the UK, but the active encouragement of Spain and South Africa. None of these countries has acknowledged giving Mann any support.

The old Etonian wrote that he was shown South African intelligence reports long before the plot was foiled - and suspected the CIA had got cold feet at the 11th hour and tipped off Zimbabwe's secret police.

EXCLUSIVE: Read an extract from Mann's book in the Sunday Times next week