San Jose Mercury News (CA)
October 29, 1986
Author: PETE CAREY, Mercury News Staff Writer
MERCENARY HELD IN BRAZIL DISCOVERS ‘HELL’
In a series of letters filled with black humor, whimsy and despair, a former San Francisco State University graduate student hired to help overthrow the West African nation of Ghana tells of his life as an accused mercenary in a Brazilian prison.
The letters to relatives in the Bay Area describe an abortive coup attempt and furnish a glimpse of a hidden world behind the bars of a South American prison, where thieves, murderers and deranged criminals are cellmates to eight Americans, many of them mercenaries who fought for Rhodesia in the mid-1970s.
”I have finally discovered hell in a small area — Agua Santa Prison — there could be no worse place on Earth,” wrote Timothy M. Carmody, 37, a former San Francisco State international relations graduate student who signed on last year with seven other Americans for an international “security” job that ended in March with his arrest in Rio de Janiero.
“Without a few bucks to buy food here, you would simply die,” Carmody wrote in July. “Because of our status as ‘international mercenaries’ we achieve status amongst the murderers on the one hand and nervous extra security from the cretin military guards. . . . The guards don’t even come amongst A through C levels. A life goes for $40. A Level are dungeons below ground — the rats are enormous.” Carmody and the seven other Americans have been held by Brazilian authorities since March in two federal prisons — Agua Santa and Helio Gomez — and now in Rio city jail, where they await the outcome of a request for their extradition to Argentina on charges of failing to pay duty on some motors for rubber boats. It could take eight months to a year for Brazilian courts to make a decision on that request, the U.S. State Department says.
They were arrested March 14 when their seagoing tug, the Nobistor, docked near Rio. Federal police found 6 tons of weapons aboard, purchased from Argentina’s government munitions factory. The men claimed they docked in Rio only because of engine trouble on the Nobistor, but they were convicted in June of attempting to smuggle weapons into Brazil, arms allegedly bound for warring factions in the Brazilian interior. On Oct. 7, a Brazilian appellate court unanimously overturned their conviction.
According to Carmody and to others familiar with the plot — the true purpose was to overthrow Ghana’s Marxist president, Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings, and replace him with his longtime adversary, Godfrey Osei. They claim the plot had the unofficial blessings of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, but the CIA has declined to confirm or deny the allegation and, according to a source, privately has told one U.S. senator that the CIA had nothing to do with it.
Year of the cockroach
”Did you ever have one of those years when everything goes wrong?” Carmody wrote to a family member Sept. 27. “1986 is definitely the year of the Brazilian cockroach.”
Carmody complained in another letter of bugs “with Bulgarian table manners” in his fruit drink and of a group of disturbed prisoners in the next cell.
”The loonies in E-9 (I am in E-8) are usually left to run wild in the corridor at night, because if they close their cell door they scream all night. The new guard closed their door, so the screaming started. It was straightened out, but when the guard left the door open the next night, the loons attacked it, broke it off its hinges and hid it in the back. They screamed with delight when the guard had to play ‘Hunt the Door.’ ”
In a June 23 letter, Carmody wrote that the men learned they had been convicted by the Brazilian court from an article that was published June 22 in the San Jose Mercury News. His account of the mercenaries’ mission describes a well-financed coup effort planned in New York by Osei.
”Well, you wanted to know what this op entailed, and I guess you have the clearances,” Carmody wrote to his family. “The knowledge may be dangerous for you to talk about. But you are welcome to the wilderness of mirrors.”
The “operation” was organized and given a code name by the dissident leader, Osei, Carmody wrote. Osei is a “big enemy of our boy Jerry Rawlings. Follow this closely — notes permitted, questions later, you fall asleep, you will be shot. ”Enter stage right — Godfrey — failed coup leader 1983 escapes from Ghanaian jail, the dreaded ‘Castle,’ flees to Ivory Coast . . . then England, where he manages to lay his hand on some official funds — wasted on (reconnaissance) by Brit Vets who fleece him. Godfrey goes to U.S. and the Company (a term for the CIA) front door. They put him on hold — he lives and works in New York.
”Rawlings, meanwhile, rolls up a goodly portion of agency net in Ghana because of traitorous CIA employee Sharon Marie Scranage (U.S. citizen) who was lover of Rawlings’ cousin Michael S. . . . All agents are imprisoned, tortured, etc. in the ‘Castle.’ Both were convicted last year in U.S. Now, Jerry Rawlings has pissed off not only the ‘Company’ but its cousins — Middle East.”
In June 1985, Rawlings’ cousin, Michael Soussoudis, 39, was arrested on espionage charges during a visit to the United States and sentenced in Alexandria, Va., to 20 years in jail. He was granted a suspension of the sentence and sent home to Ghana in exchange for the release from Ghanaian jails of eight men described by Justice Department officials in Washington as “friendly to the interests of the United States.”
Two of those men had been convicted as spies in Ghana. The eight were named as U.S. spies by Soussoudis, who learned their names from his girlfriend, Scranage, a 30-year-old CIA employee who worked in the U.S. Embassy in Acra from May 1983 to May 1984. Scranage was sentenced to a five-year jail term.
”Now, Godfrey is getting more attention,” Carmody’s letter continued. “He is directed to the mysterious Bophuthatswana Trading Co., Madison Ave., New York City.”
There, Carmody writes, Godfrey is introduced to a man named Ted Bishop. Bishop is a Texas commodities trader who has acknowledged arranging for Osei to purchase the weapons in Argentina.
Bishop said Friday he has never heard of the Bophuthatswana company. And in an interview Thursday, New York commodities trader Ronald Greenwald, president of Bophuthatswana International, said suggestions that his company was connected to the affair were “outrageous.” Greenwald said he had never heard of Bishop or Osei.
”People used to (ask) me, ‘Are you working for the CIA?’ But because I used to swap prisoners,” he said. Greenwald said that he has been involved in several U.S.-Soviet East bloc prisoner exchanges, including negotiations that eventually led to the release of Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky as part of an East-West prisoner exchange, a claim confirmed by published accounts of Shcharansky’s release.
Bophuthatswana was organized in 1980 and registered as a foreign agent to represent the South African tribal homeland of the same name, but was closed in 1982, said Greenwald. The company was “like a public relations firm,” he said. “That was the whole purpose of it.”
”I’m trying to figure out who walked in this place,” said Greenwald. “The CIA never walked in this place. . . . I don’t know. It sounds like somebody’s using our name. We’ll knock hell out of them wherever they are. . . . It must be somebody who walked in and took a card.”
In his Sept. 27 letter, Carmody continues:
”Now we are getting to our part. Godfrey needs . . . trained leadership . . . for his trained minions on the Ivory Coast.
”I won’t go into details of selection, let’s just say my name was still in the hopper from past jobs (not bartending). Money is laundered and released in New York hotel room. . . . Bishop, Godfrey fly to Buenos Aires to select weapons, boat, equipment for 100 men.
”We are alerted for security on shipment to Africa — U.S. sanctioned. That was all we knew until we arrived in Buenos Aires.
”In Miami, we surrendered our passports at hotel, . . . and within one half-hour they are back with official four-year visas for Argentina. In Argentina, the customs . . . whisk us through after flashing badges. We are loaded into ‘bread trucks’ (the same type that picked up people during the ‘Dirty War.’) and taken to our hotel in center of town.
”Now that I whetted your curiosity, I will leave it for now as I don’t want everything in one letter.”
Carmody’s Bay Area relative said he hasn’t received a promised subsequent letter, which presumably would describe the ill-fated voyage.
Since their Brazilian convictions were overturned, the men have been moved from Helio Gomez Prison back to the Rio city jail, according to Jim Ritchie, a State Department Citizens’ Emergency Center spokesman.
”It looks like we might be able to get them transferred back to . . . Gomez,” said Ritchie. “It’s like the better of two evils, so to speak. There is some indication some of the men want to go, and some don’t.”
United Press International contributed to this report.
Copyright (c) 1986 San Jose Mercury News
Record Number: 8603260771