Belfast Telegraph

Mark Thatcher faces jail over alleged link to African coup plot

By Basildon Peta and Kim Sengupta
26 August 2004

Thatcher was arrested and charged in South Africa yesterday over his alleged involvement in a plot to topple the government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.

The son of the former prime minister Margaret Thatcher is accused of funding an attempted coup by mercenaries to overthrow the ruler of the African nation and replace him with an exiled opposition leader, in return for lucrative oil contracts.

Sir Mark, 51, who was in his pyjamas when police burst into his £2m home in the Cape Town suburb of Constantia, denied the accusations.

His court appearance was delayed after he was robbed of his mobile telephone, jacket and shoes while in custody in a crowded police cell. Police officials said he was uninjured and they hoped to recover his property.

After being released on bail of £175,000 but confined to house arrest until 8 September, Sir Mark, a businessman, said: "I have no involvement in an alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea and I reject all suggestions to the contrary."

Sir Mark, who inherited the baronetcy of his late father, Sir Denis, last year, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

A police spokesman, Sipho Ngwema, said: "We have evidence, credible evidence, and information that he was involved in the attempted coup."

Equatorial Guinea's Justice Minister, Ruben Mangue, played down suggestions that the west African country may seek to extradite him. He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "Let's first give an opportunity to the South African authorities and the legal system to handle the situation."

Sir Mark's lawyer, Peter Hodes, said his client had been arrested on suspicion of providing financing for a helicopter linked to the alleged coup plot. "He will plead not guilty," he said.

Sir Mark's arrest came as trials take place in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe over the alleged plot to overthrow the regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. The plotters allegedly wanted to exploit the country's large oil reserves by installing the opposition leader Severo Moto, who is in exile in Spain

Simon Mann, an Old Etonian former SAS officer, and heir to the Watney brewing empire, is appearing in court in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, alongside 66 South Africans, after being arrested while allegedly on their way to Equatorial Guinea to join an organised uprising.

Nick du Toit, a former South African special forces soldier and arms dealer, is among 19 others charged in the Equatorial Guinea capital, Malabo, for their alleged involvement in the coup attempt. Mr du Toit, who faces the death penalty if convicted, has told the court he met Sir Mark in the run-up to the coup attempt. He said the British businessman was interested in purchasing military hardware but was not involved in the plot. He was also allegedly keen to buy military helicopters for a mining deal with Sudan.

Mr Mann had Christmas lunch with Sir Mark and his wife, Diane, last year when Baroness Thatcher, 78, was there. The former prime minister, who is in frail health, is on holiday in the United States and did not comment on her son's arrest.

Other names linked with the alleged plot include Ely Calil, a London-based oil trader who made his fortune in Nigerian oil but was questioned by police in 2002 in connection with commission paid by the French oil company Elf Aquitaine to Sani Abacha, the former dictator of Nigeria. Mr Calil is a former financial adviser to Jeffrey Archer, the disgraced former Tory deputy chairman. Lord Archer allegedly paid Mr Mann £80,000 but he denies knowledge of any coup plot.

While in Chikurubi prison, outside Harare, Mr Mann wrote a letter seeking help from Sir Mark, one of his neighbours in Cape Town and also David Hart, a businessman who advised Lady Thatcher during the miners' strike. Representing both the men in a PR role is Lord Bell, who formerly acted for Lady Thatcher. Lord Bell's organisation said neither Sir Mark nor Mr Hart had any knowledge of the alleged coup plot.

Source: Independent

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