LONDON — Mark Thatcher, arrested this week in connection with an African coup plot, financed an aircraft purchase and made a $100,000 investment in a company connected with the purported plot, British press reported yesterday.
Mr. Thatcher remained under virtual house arrest at his luxurious home in Cape Town, South Africa, where police have accused him of helping finance a failed coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.
He faces a jail term of up to 15 years if convicted of plotting to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguem Mbasogo, who is said by human rights groups to maintain power through force and corruption.
Even more ominously, authorities in Equatorial Guinea said yesterday they were seeking to extradite Mr. Thatcher for trial in that country. Eighty-four foreigners, mostly South Africans, are facing trial in Equatorial Guinea and in Zimbabwe, where many of them were arrested.
Mr. Thatcher, 51, is the son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose attorney said yesterday that she was “obviously distressed” but convinced of her son’s innocence.
The respected British television program “Channel 4 News” reported last night that a senior British politician who served in Mrs. Thatcher’s Cabinet was also involved in the coup plot but declined to name him “for legal reasons.”
The accused mastermind of the coup is Simon Mann, a close friend of Mr. Thatcher’s who was captured with several other accused plotters in Zimbabwe and whose trial begins there next week.
Reports yesterday said Mr. Mann’s bank accounts showed a $100,000 transfer to his business from a person named Thatcher just a week before the arrests in March in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea.
In a note smuggled from his prison cell that later became public, Mr. Mann appealed for “major clout” to be exercised by “Scratcher” — supposedly rhyming slang for Thatcher — and urged that big money be spent by “the investors” to help get the mercenaries out of their predicament.
Mr. Thatcher yesterday denied knowing about any coup plot although his attorneys do not deny that he participated in meetings about investing in projects in Equatorial Guinea, the third largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
Supporters of Mr. Thatcher also acknowledge that he sought to purchase a military helicopter but say it was intended for mining operations. Officials of the company selling the helicopter were quoted saying they understood it was to be used for rescue and first-aid purposes.
Mr. Mann maintains that his group was hired to guard mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In Equatorial Guinea, South African Nick du Toit, the accused commander of the coup attempt, told a court yesterday that he met Mr. Thatcher and Mr. Mann in July last year, but maintained that Mr. Thatcher was interested in buying military helicopters for a mining enterprise in Sudan.
Mr. Mann, who attended Britain’s most famous private school, Eton, and served in elite British military units, went on to transform the murky mercenary world into a corporate operation with a company called Executive Outcomes. He and Mr. Thatcher both purchased properties in the 1990s in a posh suburb under Cape Town’s majestic Table Mountain.
South African officials said yesterday they believed Mr. Thatcher had been preparing to leave the country permanently. They said he was selling his home, had booked his wife on a flight to Texas and had found schools for his children in the United States.
Mr. Thatcher has amassed considerable wealth through oil dealings and by smoothing the way for British arms sales to the Persian Gulf. In an earlier career as a car racer, he disappeared in the Sahara Desert during the Paris-Dakar rally and was rescued in a massive search operation.