Guardian Unlimited – 2005-01-14 12:29:49
(January 12, 2005) — Sir Mark Thatcher is expected to plead guilty to a charge related to allegations that he was involved in a failed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, sources said tonight.
It was understood he would make the plea at Cape Town’s high court tomorrow.
Sir Mark is accused of providing some of the financing for an alleged coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. To date, he has denied playing any part in the alleged plot.
However, sources tonight indicated that a deal – which was still being negotiated – would involve him admitting to some unwitting involvement.
It is understood he will admit that he helped provide a helicopter for the alleged coup, but was not aware of what it was to be used for.
Unconfirmed reports said the deal would involve the son of the former prime minister Baroness Thatcher paying a fine of around £300,000 and serving a suspended five-year sentence.
It has been reported that it would allow Sir Mark, who has lived in South Africa since 1995, to leave that country and rejoin his family, who have moved to the US.
He faces charges in South Africa and in Equatorial Guinea, which has sought his extradition. Nineteen other defendants are already on trial in Equatorial Guinea in connection with last year’s alleged plot to overthrow the president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled Africa’s third-largest oil producer for the past 25 years.
Sir Mark was arrested at his home in suburban Cape Town on August 25 and charged with violating the country’s anti-mercenary laws. He had not previously been expected back in court in South Africa until February 18, when he was scheduled to face questions posed by Equatorial Guinea officials.
Equatorial Guinea alleges that Sir Mark and other mainly British financiers had worked with the tiny country’s opposition figures, scores of African mercenaries and six Armenian pilots in a takeover attempt foiled in March.
Simon Mann, a former British special forces commander accused of masterminding the plot, was jailed for seven years in Zimbabwe on weapons charges. Mann had been arrested at Harare airport along with 70 alleged mercenaries and military equipment, which Equatorial Guinea alleged had been intended for an attempted coup.
Two men arrested with Mann, along with a former business associate of Sir Mark, later pleaded guilty to violating South Africa’s Foreign Military Assistance Act as part of a plea bargain under which they agreed to give evidence in court against other alleged coup participants.
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