L'affaire Equatorial Guinea

Published : May 06, 2005 00:00 IST

Sir Mark Thatcher. - OBED ZILWA/AP

Sir Mark Thatcher. - OBED ZILWA/AP

ON March 7, 2004, the Zimbabwean authorities impounded a chartered transport plane after a tip-off. On board the plane were 70 mercenaries, led by white officers from South Africa and the United Kingdom. The plane was also carrying arms and ammunition. The next day, authorities in the small Central African state of Equatorial Guinea announced that 15 foreign mercenaries were arrested on their territory. They were the advance party for the dcoup attempt against the government of Obiang Nguema, the President of the country The Courts in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea did not waste much time in putting the mercenaries on trial. The leaders of the mercenary teams arrested in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea soon confessed that one of the main masterminds of the plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, was none other that Sir Mark Thatcher, the millionaire son of the former British Prime Minster, Margaret Thatcher.

It took another four months for the South African police to put Mark Thatcher under house arrest. He was charged with violating South Africa's anti-mercenary law. Lady Margaret Thatcher was quick to post a $334,000 bail for her son. Meanwhile, a Court in Zimbabwe sentenced Simon Mann, the leader of the main mercenary contingent heading for Equatorial Guinea, to four years in prison. Mark Thatcher had to eventually to plead (not???) guilty in a South African Court on January 15, this year for his part in the plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.

Mark Thatcher who is no stranger to controversy, having been implicated in an arms deal case with Saudi Arabia when his mother was the PM, entered a plea bargain in the South African court. While denying any knowledge of the plot, he admitted breaking anti-mercenary legislation instituted by the South African government. Thatcher was given a suspended four-year sentence and fined three million rand by the South African court. Thatcher, like the Gujarat Chief Minster, Narendra Modi, was denied an US visa in the first week of April. Thatcher's wife and children are resident in Texas. Thatcher has admitted that the Americans denied him a visa for his role in Equatorial Guinea plot.

The government of Equatorial Guinea had demanded that Thatcher be repatriated to their country to face charges in Malabo, the capital. The South African mercenary, Nick du Toit, the leader of the group that was arrested in Equatorial Guinea, had said that Thatcher was one of main masterminds behind the coup plot. Simon Mann, who currently languisheis in a Zimbabwean jail, is a close personal friend of Thatcher. Mann also owns the firm "Executive Outcomes", which is notorious for providing mercenaries for warlords in many of the recent civil wars that have wracked sub-Saharan Africa. Du Toit told a court in Equatorial Guinea that he was recruited directly by Simon Mann.

The U.K. Home Secretary, Jack Straw had said late last year that his government had previous knowledge of the plot in Equatorial Guinea. In a parliamentary answer, he said that the government had known about the coup plot "in late January, 2004". The Equatorial Guinea government had alleged that the exiled leader of the opposition, Severo Moto, in the country had held secret negotiations with the then Spanish Prime Minster, Jose Maria Aznar, about the coup attempt. Equatorial Guinea was a Spanish colony. Nobody cared much about the impoverished country with a population of around 500,000 till black gold was found in humongous quantities in the nineties. The country is today the third biggest producer of oil in Africa.

It was well known that that Aznar and The British Premier, Tony Blair, shared a very warm and cosy relationship. A puppet government in Equatorial Guinea would have given Spanish and British oil companies a stranglehold on the hydrocarbon sector. President Obiang has said that multinationals and foreign powers were involved in the plot to overthrow him. Simon Mann, had told a Zimbabwean court that he had helped in the recruitment of mercenaries, acquiring weapons and logistics for the coup attempt. He said that he was told that the goal was to install an exiled leader, Severo Moto, as President of the Central African nation.

The South African and British media have reported that Mann had paid substantial amounts of money to Nick du Toit. The BBC reported that $2 million were deposited in Mann's accounts, though the source of the money has not yet been revealed. A Court in the Channel Island of Guernsey, ruled in the first week of April against divulging the full details of the individuals paying money into Mann's accounts. The case was filed on behalf of President Obiang to "discover the identity of other individuals who helped finance the plot and are sitting in London letting others face the consequences".

It was the Zimbabwe government's timely action, which helped thwart the plot by a motley group of mercenaries, having the tacit support of the shadowy agencies in London and Madrid. The anger and bile directed by Blair and company against Robert Mugabe, could be attributed l'affaire Equatorial Guinea.

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