Mark Thatcher starts court fight

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The Independent Online

Sir Mark Thatcher arrived at magistrates' court in Cape Town today for a hearing on charges that he helped bankroll a coup attempt that failed in Equatorial Guinea.

The hearings today and tomorrow centre on the legality of the government subpoena of Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a 51-year-old businessman who has lived in South African since 1995. He was arrested in Cape Town on 25 August.

Thatcher was subpoenaed in September to appear in Wynberg Magistrates' Court after the South African government granted an Equatorial Guinea request to question him about the allegations. Thatcher's lawyers argued, however, that it was unconstitutional to subpoena him to respond to those questions while he has related South African charges pending.

Equatorial Guinea wants to question a number of prominent Britons about allegations they financed a plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled Africa's third-largest oil producer for the past 25 years.

Thatcher's lawyers have maintained his innocence, saying he will cooperate with authorities.

Last month Simon Mann, a former British special forces commander and noted soldier of fortune accused of masterminding the failed coup plot, was sentenced to seven years in prison for trying to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

Mann's 67 accused co-conspirators, arrested when their aging Boeing 727 landed at the Harare International Airport on March 7, received sentences of 12-16 months for minor immigration and aviation violations.