August 27, 2004

Thatcher met with coup plotter

Taken from the South Africa Mail & Guardian Online. Matthew Burbidge and agencies | Cape Town 25 August 2004 09:03

Newly accused coup plotter Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, met with the alleged top conspirator in the months before an alleged foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, a lead defendant testified on Wednesday.{{more}}
Nick du Toit, a South African arms dealer facing the death penalty in Malabo for his alleged role, said in court that Thatcher was interested only in purchasing military hardware that was not involved in the alleged coup plot.
“Not at all, this was a normal business deal,” Du Toit said, answering attorney’s questions about whether the contact was about the coup plot.
Eighty-nine men are on trial in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe for an alleged internationally backed conspiracy to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s number-three oil producer.
Defendants include Britain’s Simon Mann, on trial in Zimbabwe as the alleged top planner for the coup attempt.
Du Toit told the court on Wednesday that Mann had brought Thatcher together with Du Toit in July 2003 in South Africa. But Du Toit said he was interested only in buying military helicopters for what Thatcher said was one of his mining deals with Sudan.
Lawyers for Equatorial Guinea said the country may pursue the extradition of Thatcher.
Scorpions spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi told the Mail & Guardian Online on Wednesday that the priority crimes litigation unit, part of the National Prosecuting Authority, had arrested Thatcher in a raid at about 6am on Wednesday morning.
“The Scorpions have arrested the son of a prominent former British politician. We are investigating charges of contravening the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act. This is in relation to the possible funding and logistical assistance in relation to the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. We have conducted a search and seizure operation at his home in Cape Town,” Nkosi said.
He said that Thatcher, who lives in the leafy Cape Town suburb of Constantia with his Texan wife Diane, would appear in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court later in the day, or on Thursday, for a bail hearing. He would be held in the court’s cells until then.
Nkosi said they had been preparing for the search and seizure operation for some time.
“We investigate all possible contraventions of the Act. This matter was brought to our attention and we have been following it. The investigation led us in that direction.”
Nkosi said Thatcher was being held at the house while the search and seizure operation was under way.
“We go through documents … computer hard drives, anything that could provide us with information,” he said.
According to another Scorpions spokesperson, Sipho Ngwema, Thatcher was being “relatively cooperative” with investigators.
Ngwema said Thatcher had been on his way to drop his two children at school when he was arrested.
There is no immediate indication that Thatcher faces extradition to Malabo to join eight South Africans, six Armenians and four Equato-Guineans currently on trial there for the alleged coup attempt in March.
The alleged putsch mastermind, South African Nick du Toit, faces the death penalty and the others lengthy terms of imprisonment.
Another 70 men are on trial in Zimbabwe for offences there related to the alleged coup bid.
Equatorial Guinea’s long-time dictator Obiang Nguema some weeks ago accused Thatcher of complicity in a plot to overthrow his government in an interview with French publication Jeunne Afrique Intelligent.
“Certain elements also indicate that Mark Thatcher and a former Thatcher Cabinet minister, who I cannot name, handled the financial planning of the coup,” he said.
The British High Commission told the M&G Online it would be offering assistance to Thatcher, like it would any British citizen.
“We are aware of the arrest and will offer normal consular assistance to Mark Thatcher like we do to any British national who is arrested in an overseas country. We can’t comment on what help has been given or what help has been requested from the British government,” said Nick Sheppard, British High Commission spokesperson.
Sheppard said Thatcher’s arrest won’t have any impact on the arrival of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Cape Town later on Wednesday morning for talks with the South African government.
“This is a private, separate issue. It is not likely to derail Straw’s business in terms of what he is here to do and what he is going to do,” said Sheppard.
The United Kingdom’s Telegraph newspaper reported in July that Thatcher and his family were threatened by anonymous blackmailers over his friendship with Simon Mann, the former SAS officer and alleged mercenary leader on trial in Zimbabwe.
Thatcher was among several of Mann’s friends to have received menacing calls from men with South African accents demanding large sums of money. One caller said that he knew where the Thatchers’ two children went to school.
The Telegraph reported the would-be blackmailers are believed to be linked to Afrikaner members of the alleged mercenary gang who have fallen out with Mann since their arrest in Harare. The men are accused of planning to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea.
The UK paper reported that the callers are thought to be trying to extort money from Mann’s acquaintances in revenge for the falling-out, but none is known to have been paid.
Thatcher had managed to acquire the reputation of being a generally amiable, if slightly blundering, figure who had managed to make himself wealthy despite a distinctly mixed record in business.
In late 1995 after reportedly losing millions of pounds in business deals, Thatcher and his wife decided to make a new life in South Africa, buying a plush, six-bedroom house in the exclusive Cape Town suburb of Constantia.
Subsequently, Thatcher has lived a generally quiet and low-profile life in Cape Town, where his near-neighbours include Earl Spencer, elder brother of the late Princess Diana.