. SOUTH African police yesterday morning arrested Mark Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on suspicion of involvement in the coup plot in Equatorial Guinea.
However, Thatcher (51) was later released on bail by a Cape Town court.
At least 70 suspected mercenaries being held at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare were allegedly on their way to stage the coup to topple President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
They are facing charges of breaching the Immigration Act, the Civil Aviation Act and the Firearms Act.
Makhosini Nkosi, spokesman for the Scorpions elite investigating unit, was yesterday quoted as saying Thatcher was arrested in Cape Town.
"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," he said.
"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," he added.
Thatcher appeared in a Cape Town court which ordered him released under a series of strict conditions, including the posting of a two million rand bank guarantee and surrender of his passport.
Thatcher, who was arrested early in the morning while still in pyjamas, was not asked to enter a formal plea to draft charges against him, which include violations of South Africa’s strict anti-mercenary laws.
"I am innocent of all the charges made against me. I have been and am co-operating with the authorities in order to resolve the matter," he said.
But Nkosi said: "This man has a very serious case to answer in court. The Scorpions unit does not just arrest people unless there is a very strong case."
There was no immediate indication that Thatcher faced extradition to Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, to join eight South Africans, six Armenians and four Equatorial 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 face lengthy terms of imprisonment.
A British daily in July linked Thatcher with the leader of that group, Simon Mann.
The arrest comes on the same day as a visit to Cape Town by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and four ministerial colleagues.
Straw was in the city for bilateral talks with his South African counterpart Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Britain’s Africa agenda and to help ease what was said to be strained relations between the two countries.
British High Commission spokesman Nick Sheppard said the arrest would not have an impact on Straw’s visit.
Mark, who was arrested at his Cape Town home, lives in the upmarket district of Constantia, where he is a neighbour of Mann (51), a former officer in Britain’s Special Air Service commando unit who is one of the 70 men currently on trial in Zimbabwe in connection with the alleged coup plot.
The suspected mercenaries were captured at Harare International Airport in March after their chartered Boeing 727-100 plane landed to collect assault rifles and mortars.
Thatcher’s arrest comes a few days after the Zimbabwe Government declined a request from Equatorial Guinea to extradite the 70 men to that country.
The West African country last Friday sent special envoys to Harare to ask for the extradition of the 70, but Home Affairs Minister Cde Kembo Mohadi said this was impossible since it would be against international law.
When the men were arrested in Harare in March, more than a dozen alleged accomplices were also detained at the same time in the oil-rich West African country of Equatorial Guinea, which thanked Zimbabwe for helping to thwart an attempt to overthrow President Obiang Nguema.
The detainees deny the charges and say they were on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to guard mines.
Thatcher’s arrest also comes as the alleged ringleader of the plot, Du Toit, gave evidence in his trial in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea.
Du Toit, a South African arms dealer, said the men were never told what they were being recruited for.
"They are innocent, according to me," he said in court.
His comments referred to 18 European and African co-defendants in Malabo, who face prison sentences of up to 86 years.
A 90th defendant, a German, died in prison in Equatorial Guinea.
Equatorial Guinea, pumping 350 000 barrels of oil a day, has become Africa’s third largest oil producer since offshore development began in the mid-1990s.
The country has accused the British and South African oil broker Eli Calil and other foreign financiers of funding the alleged coup attempt.
Du Toit says foreign financiers plotted the coup, conspiring to put the exiled Severo Moto in place.
Verdicts are expected on Saturday.
Equatorial Guinea announced as the trials opened on Monday that it would seek Du Toit’s execution, contrary to earlier promises that no death penalties would be pursued in the case. – Xinhua/SAPA/New Ziana/Herald Reporter/Reuters.© Copyright of Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Limited 2001. http://www.herald.co.zw/
~~~~~~~~~~Note nailed 'Scratcher'August 26, 2004
By Staff Reporters and Angencies
The arrest of Sir Mark Thatcher was set in motion by a letter smuggled out of Harare's Chikurubi jail at the end of March.
In it, Old Etonian Simon Mann, a friend of Thatcher's who is accused of leading the failed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, referred to a contact called "Scratcher" - believed to be his nickname for Thatcher.
Mann is one of 70 men on trial in Zimbabwe in connection with the alleged coup.
The letter, which was sent to Mann's wife, Amanda, was intercepted by South African intelligence services.
It said: "Our situation is not good and very URGENT. They (the lawyers) get no reply from Smelly and Scratcher (who) asked them to ring back after the Grand Prix race was over!
"This is not going well. I must say once again: what will get us out is MAJOR CLOUT. Once we get into a real trial scenario we are f*****
Sources close to Mann say "Scratcher" is Mark Thatcher and "Smelly" is Ely Calil, a multimillionaire Lebanese oil trader who has been accused by the government of Equatorial Guinea of being at the centre of the alleged plot - a claim he denies, saying his name was provided under torture.
Mann's letter, which was written on two plain sheets of paper and a scrap of a magazine page, also said: "We need heavy influence of the sort that ... Smelly, Scratcher ... David Hart, and it needs to be used heavily and now."
Hart is a wealthy businessman who advised Thatcher's mother, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, during the 1984 miners' strike.
The letter went on: "It may be that getting us out comes down to a large splodge of wonga! Of course, investors did not think this would happen. Did I? Do they think they can be part of something like this with only upside potential - no hardship or risk of this going wrong.
"Anyone and everyone in this is in it - good times or bad. Now it's bad times and everyone has to f***
ing well pull their full weight."
The letter added: "Anyway (another contact) was expecting project funds inwards to Logo (Mann's firm) from Scratcher (200) ... If there is not enough, then present investors must come up with more."
The letter makes it clear that Mann was expecting Thatcher to make an investment of $200 000 (about R1.4million), although it does not say what the money was for.
The Guardian in London reports today that Thatcher may have made an investment in Logo through a South African company called Triple A Aviation, which in January signed a contract with Logo to provide aircraft and aviation services.
The newspaper says banking records show the company, which trades as Air Ambulance Africa from Bethlehem in the Free State, paid $100 000 into Logo's account on March 2, less than a week before the alleged coup attempt was launched.
According to sources quoted by The Guardian, Triple A provided a twin-engined King Air turboprop which flew the exiled Equatorial Guinea opposition leader, Severo Moto, from Spain to Bamako in Mali on the eve of the alleged coup attempt, in preparation for a triumphant return to power.
But friends of Thatcher's told The Guardian he had entered into a separate contract with Triple A to provide an air ambulance helicopter for work in Equatorial Guinea. "I don't think he knew what he was getting into," one was quoted as saying.
Despite Calil's denial of involvement, Mann wrote in a statement after his arrest in Harare: "Ely Calil asked me if I would like to meet Severo Moto ... I met Severo Moto in Madrid. He is clearly a good and honest man ...
"At this stage they asked me if I could help escort Severo Moto home at a given moment while simultaneously there would be an uprising of both military and civilians against (Equatorial Guinea President) Obiang ... I agreed to try and help the cause."
~~~~~~~~~~Thatcher 'set to leave' SA before arrestAugust 26, 2004
By Johan Schronen
Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, may have been about to leave South Africa when he was arrested in his Constantia home yesterday.
Scorpions sources said Thatcher, 51, had known authorities were investigating him for some time, having interviewed him about "certain allegations" earlier this year.
He has been arrested in terms of the Foreign Military Assistance Act in connection with the alleged plot to topple Equatorial Guinea's president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
Thatcher's friend, Simon Mann, is one of 70 people on trial in Zimbabwe for the plot. Other people including alleged coup leader South African Nick du Toit are on trial in Equatorial Guinea.
British newspapers have reported that Thatcher recently sold several luxury cars and other items.
When the Scorpions raided his luxury home in Dawn Avenue, Constantia, they found personal belongings packed into suitcases and trunks.
Scorpions spokesman Sipho Ngwema confirmed that investigators had been on Thatcher's trail for some time and that information and witness statements obtained recently had culminated in his arrest yesterday.
Ngwema would not confirm media reports that Thatcher was on the brink of leaving the country for the US. But a Daily Mail report said Thatcher had started selling his fleet of luxury cars in recent days.
Investigators feared that if he left South Africa it could take years to extradite him back and that there was little doubt he was about to move abroad, according to the paper.
There have been reports that the Scorpions made their move because Thatcher's house had gone on the market for R22 million.
However, estate agents operating in Constantia said today that the luxury Dawn Avenue home was not on the market.
It has also been reported in Britain that yesterday's arrest, coming when British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was in Cape Town, was intended as a pointed message to Britain that South Africa could not be pushed around.
But Ngwema denied this. He said the Scorpions had not realised Straw was in town, and that they had made their move yesterday "for operational reasons".
The Scorpions swooped on Thatcher at his home about 7am yesterday, armed with arrest and search warrants, and spent the next seven hours going through piles of documents.
Shortly before 2.30pm the Scorpions convoy left Constantia for the Wynberg Regional Court.
Thatcher's lawyer, Allan Bruce Brand of Webber Wentzel Bowens, said outside court yesterday that Thatcher had been co-operating with investigators and had no plans to flee.