South Africa: disgraced Thatcher escapes jail; When faced with the prospect of going to prison for his involvement in a coup plot to overthrow the president of Equatorial Guinea, Sir Mark Thatcher paid the money and ran. Tom Okello reports.

Author:Okello, Tom
Position:Around Africa

Mark Thatcher was found guilty in January of participating in preparations for a failed coup attempt to topple President Obiang Nguema of the oil-rich West African nation. After months of denial, his admission as part of a plea bargain in a South African court saw him ordered to pay a 3 million Rand fine and handed a four-year suspended jail sentence.


Thatcher admitted to providing the financial resources to buy a helicopter which was to be used as air support by a group of mercenaries in the botched coup attempt. Protesting his belief that it was to be used as an air ambulance, the fine ordered by the Cape Town high court sees Thatcher avoid a maximum 15 year prison sentence over his role in the whole affair.

The story began in March of last year when a group of mercenaries were arrested on the tarmac of Harare International Airport. Led by the former British SAS officer Simon Mann, they were detained while trying to procure arms en route to Equatorial Guinea. In spite of their insistence the weapons were to be used to guard a mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, all 67 were subsequently tried and convicted by a Zimbabwean court.

Some five months later, Thatcher was arrested at his Cape Town residence by South Africa's version of the FBI, the Scorpions, and charged with violating the country's anti-mercenary laws. In court, he admitted to paying U$275,000 into the account of a company owned by Mann in order to charter the helicopter. Although since his arrest he remained adamant the payment was a legitimate business transaction, he disclosed that before transferring the money, he begun to question the "true intentions" of Mann and suspected a possible mercenary venture.

Enter Sir Mark's mother, the former British prime minister Lady Thatcher. While spending the Christmas period with him at his Cape Town residence, it is thought they discussed the possibility of entering a plea bargain to avoid a prison term. In a...

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