Thatcher plans his return to Britain after plea bargain

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The Independent Online

Sir Mark Thatcher was said to be planning to return to Britain from South Africa last night after pleading guilty over this role in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea.

Sir Mark Thatcher was said to be planning to return to Britain from South Africa last night after pleading guilty over this role in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea.

Baroness Thatcher's son avoided a prison sentence during an appearance at the High Court in Cape Town with a plea bargaining deal under which he incurred a four-year suspended sentence and a fine of 3 million rand, about £265,000.

According to friends of Sir Mark, the fine will be paid by Lady Thatcher, who also put up his bail money of £165,000 after his arrest in Cape Town in August last year.

South African police sources claimed that Lady Thatcher, who spent Christmas and New Year with her son in Cape Town, had played a role in organising the deal. Until now, the police had refused plea bargaining approaches from Sir Mark's lawyers, insisting they had enough to secure a conviction that would lead to a jail sentence.

Last week it was revealed that three men who had organised the coup, Crause Steyl, Harry Carlse and Lourens Horn had agreed to give evidence against Sir Mark.

Sir Mark, who had hitherto denied any knowledge of the coup plot in the oil-rich west African state admitted yesterday he had invested £150,000 for the chartering of helicopters despite discovering they were going to be used in the attempt to overthrow the government.

He said he was invited to pay for the aircraft by Simon Mann, an Old Etonian former SAS officer, who subsequently received a seven-year sentence (reduced to four) in Harare, Zimbabwe, for his part in the coup plot. Sir Mark believed the aircraft would be used as air ambulances.

He admitted later that he began to suspect the helicopter would be used in the Equatorial Guinea coup. Mr Justice Abe Motala said at the High Court: "The accused began to suspect the helicopter might in fact be intended for use in such mercenary activity. Despite his misgivings, the accused decided to invest money in the charter of the helicopter."

The Equatorial Guinea government had unsuccessfully sought Sir Mark's extradition. It is now pursuing legal action in London against him and others allegedly involved in subsidising the conspiracy.

Sir Mark said: "There is no price too high for me to pay to be reunited with my family and I am sure all of you who are husbands and fathers would agree."

Lady Thatcher, who is back in London, said: " This has been a difficult time for all of the family - obviously I am delighted that it has been brought to an end. I know all that matters to Mark is now to be reunited with Diane and the children as soon as possible."

Sir Mark's wife and children moved to Texas soon after his arrest. He has received his passport which was impounded by the South African authorities. However, the US embassy in London said that British citizens with a felony conviction will have to apply for a visa to enter the US and "each application will be considered separately".

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