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S.Africa Police Arrest Thatcher Son in Coup Probe S.Africa Police Arrest Thatcher Son in Coup Probe

By Gordon Bell

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African police arrested the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday on suspicion of involvement in a coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.

Sipho Ngwema, spokesman for the FBI-style Scorpions unit, said Thatcher, 51, was arrested early on Wednesday after police arrived to search his home in an upscale Cape Town suburb. Thatcher was in his pajamas when he was arrested, Ngwema said.

Thatcher, a businessman who moved to Cape Town from the United States in 1996, "reacted like anyone else would react when confronted with police," Ngwema said, adding that he was expected to appear in court later on Wednesday.

The media camped outside Thatcher’s residence in Constant, a suburb at the foot of Cape Town’s famed Table Mountain, as police escorted men, believed to be Thatcher’s lawyers, inside.

Thatcher, whose mother was British premier from 1979-90 and who became Sir Mark when he inherited his father’s baronetcy upon the death of his father Denis last year, was still in the large double-story thatched-roof house.

Police are investigating Thatcher on charges of violating South Africa’s tough anti-mercenary law in connection with what officials have called a plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil producer.

Eighty four foreigners, mostly South Africans, have been put on trial simultaneously in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea in one of Africa’s most spectacular mercenary cases for decades.

"We have alleged that he (Thatcher) is a financier in that particular coup attempt ... we are looking for documents that are going to assist us in our investigation. We take this very seriously," Ngwema said as his colleagues searched the house.

"He should not use our country as a springboard to export violence and disorder," he added.

British High Commission (embassy) spokesman Nick Sheppard said the embassy was checking reports of Thatcher’s arrest.

"If Mr. Thatcher has been arrested we will offer him the normal consular assistance we offer to any British national who is arrested in South Africa," he said.


Local media said he is a friend of Simon Mann, the former British special forces member regarded as the leader of the Zimbabwe group of suspected mercenaries, who were arrested in March when their plane landed in Harare on what officials said was a trip to join co-conspirators in Equatorial Guinea.

At their trial in Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday, a South African suspect told the court the plotters hoped to install an exiled opposition politician at the helm of the oil-rich state.

South African Nick du Toit said he had met with Mann, who is among those now held in Zimbabwe, to discuss buying weapons, recruiting personnel and logistics for the alleged coup plot.

Privately educated at Britain’s elite Harrow School but with little academic success, Thatcher failed his accountancy examinations three times.

Thatcher, who the British media dubbed "The Boy Mark," was worshipped by his mother. He tried a number of jobs including car rally driver.

When her son got lost in the Sahara desert during a sports car rally in 1982, the "Iron Lady" broke down and wept in public. She only shed tears again when she quit the premiership.

Just how he financed his Rolls Royce lifestyle has been a matter of rumor and innuendo for years in Britain which he left in the mid-1980s for the United States to escape press attention. He later moved to South Africa.

Source : Reuters

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