Thatcher to face £260,000 claim over leader coup plot

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The Independent Online

In three days' time, lawyers acting for Sir Mark Thatcher will go before a court in South Africa in an attempt to save him from having to answer questions about his alleged role in a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.

In three days' time, lawyers acting for Sir Mark Thatcher will go before a court in South Africa in an attempt to save him from having to answer questions about his alleged role in a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.

If they fail, then 24 hours later will come the latest twist in this tale of intrigue - details officially emerging of the case against Baroness Thatcher's son, which will also show to what extent he might have been implicated by his supposed fellow conspirators.

If it goes ahead, a magistrate at a court in Wynberg in Cape Province will ask Sir Mark questions on behalf of lawyers acting for President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who, it is claimed, was due to be overthrown in the plot by a group of mercenaries and replaced by an opposition leader in exile. The prize, it is alleged, was lucrative business concessions in the oil-rich central African state.

The main allegation likely to be levelled against Sir Mark, The Independent has learned, is that he was an active participant in the coup plot, providing $260,000 (£145,000) for the operation. The fund, it will be claimed, was to be used for leasing an aircraft to fly an exiled opposition leader, Severo Moto, to Equatorial Guinea from Mali.

The coup attempt had to be aborted when a planned uprising was discovered and sweeping arrests took place in Harare, Zimbabwe, and the Equatorial Guinea capital of Malabo. Mr Moto, accompanied by two British businessmen, was at the time in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, having arrived there from mainland Spain on the way to west Africa. The Thatcher money was also used, it is likely to be alleged, to help acquire a Boeing 727 to transport a former SAS officer, Simon Mann, and 67 men to Zimbabwe, en route to Malabo.

Sir Mark did make a payment to Crause Steyl, a pilot and businessman. Both the men are involved in an air-ambulance service called Triple-A Aviation. In January this year the company signed a contract to supply aircraft and aviation services to Logo Logistics, owned by Mr Mann, who was jailed for seven years in Zimbabwe last week on charges in connection with the coup. The plane, which was also used to pick up weapons at Harare, was flown by Mr Steyl's brother Niel.

According to senior South African sources, Mr Steyl has claimed to police that Sir Mark knew that the money would be passed on to Mr Mann for the coup. They refused to discuss suggestions that Mr Steyl had taped conversations with Sir Mark. Sir Mark has maintained, through his lawyers, that the investment was purely for the air-ambulance service. They say if Mr Steyl passed Sir Mark's money on to Mr Mann, it was done without Sir Mark's knowledge.

Authorities in Equatorial Guinea are said to have received "new" information from Nick du Toit, a former South African soldier and alleged member of the coup gang, currently on trial in Malabo, though they have made no attempt to present it. In a previous statement, Mr Du Toit had said Sir Mark was present at a meeting to plan the coup, but was unaware of what was going on.

Acquaintances of Mr Du Toit say that any accusations made by him are likely to have been extracted by a mixture of coercion and offers of clemency.

The trial of Mr Du Toit had been adjourned until after Sir Mark was questioned. The Equatorial Guinea Deputy Prime Minister, Ricardo Obama Nfube, has said that Mr Du Toit could receive clemency is return for co-operation.

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