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« on: October 13, 2004, 11:40:07 AM »

Britain accused of failing to investigate Africa coup

By Andrew Pierce and Daniel McGrory
BRITISH security services were accused yesterday of failing to investigate British businessmen over their alleged links to a failed African coup.

Officials from Equatorial Guinea were in London demanding to know why the British authorities have not kept their promise to question figures who allegedly bankrolled the botched coup.

The delegation claims that up to eight British-based businessmen played a role, including the disgraced Tory peer, Jeffrey Archer.  

One senior official told The Times: “This was a conspiracy to murder a president, overthrow a legitimate government and surely falls under the definition of terrorism and yet nothing has been done about it here. This coup attempt was in large part financed from Britain. We were given undertakings that the British-based suspects would be investigated here but nothing has been done.”

The delegation met Chris Mullin, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister, and Home Office officials. The oil-rich West African state has requested Home Office help in questioning the Britons alleged to have been involved in the plot.

President Obiang, the country's leader, is also taking civil action for damages in the High Court here against some of those British businessmen he claims took part in trying to overthrow him. His lawyers accept that action “will take years” but want the British authorities to keep their pledge to question alleged key players whose names have been passed to Whitehall from Equatorial Guinea.

The botched coup led to the jailing of Simon Mann, an Old Etonian, in Zimbabwe last month. Among the millionaire businessmen named as conspirators in the plot was Sir Mark Thatcher.

A number of mercenaries who took part in the coup attempt in March now say they are willing to give evidence against its financiers.

Prosecutors in South Africa are said to be willing to be lenient to some of the mercenaries if they testify against the organisers. One judicial source in Johannesburg said: “The money men are the real big fish. We don't want them using their money to escape justice while others go to jail.”

Crause Steyl, a South African pilot who says that he was hired to fly key figures to Equatorial Guinea after the coup succeeded, has reportedly offered to testify against Sir Mark when he returns to court in South Africa.

Mr Steyl claims that Sir Mark contributed about $250,000 to hire aircraft. Sir Mark, 51, says that he was investing in air ambulances.

The son of the former Prime Minister is said by friends to be frustrated at the time that it is taking South African prosecutors to bring him to trial.

He is due back in court next month but one close associate said: “He wants to clear his name but there is real concern the trial may be postponed until next spring.”

Baroness Thatcher, who posted bail for her son, phones his Cape Town home regularly to discuss the case. The charges against Sir Mark, alleging that he provided logistical support for the coup, carry a 15-year maximum jail sentence.

South African investigators say they have evidence that the key conspirators were promised $10 million (£5.6 million) if the coup succeeded.

Investigators are checking telephone calls made by the alleged financiers who include Ely Calil, a London-based businessman whom the authorities in Equatorial Guinea have identified as the chief architect of the coup. Mr Calil denies the allegation.
The authorities in the capital, Malabo, claim that Mr Calil telephoned Archer's London home from South Africa in January as the leading conspirators met at a Johannesburg hotel.

Lawyers for Archer say that he was not in Britain at the time these alleged calls were made. The 64-year-old former Tory party deputy chairman also denies playing any part in the coup attempt.

Archer's name was forwarded by the authorities in Equatorial Guinea after they discovered that £74,000 had been paid into Simon Mann's bank account by a J. H. Archer. These are the initials of Archer, although he denies paying any money to finance a coup.

Among the other alleged financiers the authorities in Equatorial Guinea want investigating are Greg Wales, the London-based businessman.

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