Mark Thatcher's got bags of 'wonga' but few options

Ex-PM's son almost out of places to shelter from enemies
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The Independent Online

Sir Mark Thatcher is said to be looking for a house to buy in Guernsey, believing the Channel Islands might shelter him from the vengeful ruler of a small African state who is alleged to eat the brains and testicles of his enemies.

But if you think that is an unenviable situation for Baroness Thatcher's wayward son, consider the plight of his erstwhile friend Simon Mann, who is in one of the ruler's dungeons. It is no place for an Old Etonian and former SAS officer.

Both men have admitted a role in the botched 2004 plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, once a malarial backwater which is now Africa's third largest oil producer. But Sir Mark told a South African court his participation was "unwitting". Mann, who has just been sentenced to 34 years in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea's capital, claims it was a good deal more important: in fact, he says, Sir Mark was on the "management team" giving the orders to the ex-soldier, whose own part was much less significant, despite being caught in Zimbabwe on his way to Malabo with a shipment of arms and a planeload of mercenaries.

So far, so confusing. But then last week, Ely Calil, the London-based oil trader named by Mann as the "cardinal of the plot", broke his silence. For four years he flatly denied any involvement, but on Tuesday he told the Daily Telegraph that he supported only "democratic change" in Equatorial Guinea, and had financed plans by Severo Moto, an exiled opponent of President Obiang, to return. "There was no coup plot," he said, and Sir Mark had "absolutely nothing" to do with it. Mann and his mercenaries were simply hired to protect Moto. Last week, Calil was negotiating with Channel 4 News to put his side of the story on television, but his ground rules for an interview were said to be too restrictive for the broadcaster.

All three men in this tale are millionaires with "splodges of wonga", to use Mann's words. The odd thing is that he seems to be the most cheerful of them. Despite being in Malabo's Black Beach prison, which supposedly floods at high tide, Mann says it is better than his last jail, in Zimbabwe. He has a proper bed and meals are sent in from a hotel. He is reported to have told his bank in Guernsey – that place again – to send him his records, hoping to use them to gain leniency.

Sir Mark, who has a considerable fortune from various business deals, also banks in the Channel Islands. But if he is seeking to move from his present base, a heavily fortified mansion in southern Spain, it is not to be nearer his money. Though he is safe from Equatorial Guinea's attempts to extradite him, he is said to fear being spirited away illegally, and believes a kidnap squad would be more conspicuous in Guernsey. However, his choice of bolt-holes is limited since his criminal conviction in South Africa. The US will not have him, nor will Monaco or Switzerland – so this small island seems his best bet.