- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

PRETORIA, South Africa — Prosecutors plan to use the threat of extensive prison terms against a group of South African mercenaries to get them to identify the financial backers of a plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.

Such evidence could confirm suspicions that the scheme was backed by prominent British figures including Mark Thatcher, a wealthy businessman and son of the former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Several of the mercenaries are being held in neighboring Zimbabwe, where the leader of the group, former British special forces operative Simon Mann, 51, was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison.

Other members of his group received only one-year jail terms, which probably will result in their being sent home to South Africa within six months. Under new South African legislation, the men then could face charges of organizing mercenary activity even though they were arrested in another country.

South African prosecutors already are seeking to interview Mann and senior members of his mercenary force in Zimbabwe.

Officials involved in the case told The Washington Times they hope Mann will “spill the beans” on Mr. Thatcher out of revenge.

“He apparently believes ‘Scratcher,’ or Thatcher, failed to come to his aid when he was arrested, and we think we can exploit that,” the source said.

“We also think that some of his henchmen know who was financing the operation and will tell all in exchange for charges against them in South Africa being dropped.”

Security services intercepted a letter that Mann wrote to his wife asking that “Scratcher” and others to use “major clout,” including a “large splodge of wonga,” to get him and his 64 fellow mercenaries out of their predicament. “Wonga” is British upper-class slang for money and “Scratcher” is thought to be rhyming slang for “Thatcher.”

A list of names also has been found by investigators, with sums of money listed beside the names, but prosecution sources said they do not consider the document sufficient to convict Mr. Thatcher, a South Africa resident under house arrest.

“We believe Mann or his closest henchmen can confirm whether those named had actually paid out the money and for what purpose,” they said.

The prosecution thinks that 15 “investors” were asked to each put in 1 million rand — about $157,000 — and were promised a return of 15 million rand within six months.

Oil exploration and development have brought explosive economic growth to Equatorial Guinea, where the government is listed by human rights groups as among the most repressive and corrupt in the world.

The coup aimed to replace the president, retired Brig. Gen. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, with the country’s exiled opposition leader.

Seized documents show that a “JH Archer” transferred funds to a company owned by Mann just days before the failed mercenary mission.

Prosecutors think that name could refer to Jeffrey Archer, an author of best-selling novels and one-time Conservative Party deputy chairman who recently completed a jail term for perjury.

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