- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

From combined dispatches


Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has agreed to post bail equivalent to $300,000 to free her son, Mark, from house arrest in South Africa, the Times of London reported yesterday.

Mark Thatcher, 51, a millionaire businessman, was arrested in Cape Town, South Africa, last week on suspicion of helping finance a coup attempt in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. He denied the accusation.

The Times said Mrs. Thatcher, 78, who served as prime minister from 1979 to 1990, agreed Friday to help her son after a telephone conversation on her return to Britain from a vacation in the United States. “The money will be paid within 36 hours,” The Times said yesterday.

Mrs. Thatcher, known as “the Iron Lady” when her Conservative Party was in power, has made no public comment on her son’s situation.

Mr. Thatcher was arrested and charged Aug. 25 with contributing money to a plan to overthrow Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who seized power 25 years ago in a coup.

Mr. Obiang says the plot was backed by foreign financiers who hoped to gain control of Equatorial Guinea’s vast oil wealth. He has accused London-based Lebanese oil tycoon Ely Calil and Mr. Thatcher of financing the coup plan.

Mr. Calil has denied involvement.

Mr. Thatcher has been under house arrest at his Cape Town home since then and faces his next court appearance on Nov. 25.

His attorney in Cape Town, Ron Wheeldon, said the $300,000 to obtain Mr. Thatcher’s release from house arrest was “a surety,” not bail.

The sum is equivalent to the amount Mr. Thatcher is said to have paid Simon Mann, the reputed British mastermind of the coup plot.

On Friday, Mann, the founder of the mercenary firm Executive Outcomes, was convicted in Zimbabwe of attempting to buy weapons illegally for the plotters. He faces up to 10 years in prison when sentences are handed down Sept. 10.

The trial in Malabo of 19 men — eight purported South African mercenaries , six Armenians and five men from Equatorial Guinea — began Aug. 23 and was suspended Tuesday.

Reuters news agency reported yesterday from Malabo, Equatorial Guinea’s capital on the island of Bioko off the coast of West Africa, that the trial would resume in 30 days, giving investigators time to visit South Africa and interview Mr. Thatcher.

Most of Equatorial Guinea lies in Rio Muni, on mainland Africa.

South African officials are examining a request from Equatorial Guinea last week to question Mr. Thatcher.

Two suspects acquitted by the court in Zimbabwe returned to South Africa during the weekend. They were questioned in the administrative capital, Pretoria. Investigators said “the door is still open” for them to become state witnesses.

Mr. Thatcher’s wife, Diane, a Texan, and their two children — Michael,15, and Amanda,11 — arrived in Britain on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the family, Tim Bell, a public relations millionaire, said Diane Thatcher was taking her children to the United States. “The children are going to school there, but then she will be going back to South Africa,” he said, refusing to discuss a time frame.

At the opening session of the trial in Malabo, South African Nick du Toit, the purported plot ringleader, told the court that he was promised a large amount of money to lead an attempt to bring to power Severo Moto, a Guinean opposition leader living as an exile in Spain.

Mr. du Toit said he had a limited logistical role in the plot. All the others on trial deny involvement. If found guilty, they face the death penalty.

The men’s relatives say the accused were tortured while being held in Malabo’s notorious Black Beach prison. A German arrested in March with the other suspects died in custody. Officials say he succumbed to cerebral malaria, but human-rights groups say he died from torture.

Defense attorneys objected Tuesday to the suspension of the trial, saying their clients had been in prison since March. The Malabo court did not say when proceedings would resume.

Harry Carlse and Lourens Horn — the two South Africans acquitted in the Zimbabwean portion of the far-reaching case — may give statements about some of the other players after reports that investigators are focusing on the suspected involvement in the plot of other “British investors.”

A spokesman for South Africa’s elite Scorpions investigative unit said the pair had been “questioned, and we are considering prosecuting them” under South Africa’s law against mercenary warfare.

Their attorney, Alwyn Griebenow, said Mr. Carlse and Mr. Horn already had been charged by police and were expecting summonses next week to appear in court.

The two had been inspecting weapons Mann bought from state-owned Zimbabwe Defense Industries when police arrested them March 7 at Harare International Airport with 67 others aboard a plane that had stopped over to pick up the arms.

A second group were arrested in Malabo, charged with being the advance party for the coup. This group comprised the 19 men whose trial was interrupted two days ago.

Their purported leader, Mr. du Toit, complained that he has been abandoned by his backers.

“I feel bitter more than anything,” Mr. du Toit told the Star newspaper of Johannesburg. “We’ve been totally abandoned by all the big players behind the coup plot.”

He said he never discussed the coup plot directly with Mr. Thatcher, but that he had met him four times and Mr. Thatcher had been present at a meeting in Johannesburg in July last year when the plot was being finalized.

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