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Mercenary linked to Thatcher guilty.

Byline: By Michael Woods

An ex-SAS mercenary linked to Sir Mark Thatcher in a supposed failed African coup was yesterday convicted of arms offences.

Simon Mann, 51, said to be the ringleader of a plot to topple the government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, was convicted in a Zimbabwe court of trying to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

Sir Mark, son of former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher, continued to be held under house arrest in South Africa accused of backing Mann's plan to overthrow the regime of President Teodoro Obiang in the west African state.

Problems for Sir Mark, 51, who denies any involvement, worsened as Equatorial Guinea ( which employs the death penalty for serious crimes ( said it had asked for him to be extradited.

Lawyers for Sir Mark and a spokesman for prosecutors in South Africa said the request appeared to have little chance of success.

Lady Thatcher arrived back in London from a holiday in the United States but made no comment on the furore.

Mann, an Old Etonian and former SAS officer, admitted trying to order assault rifles, grenades, anti-tank rocket launchers and other weapons from the Zimbabwe Defence Industries ( an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

But magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said prosecutors had failed to prove their case against 64 other men arrested when their ageing Boeing 727 landed at Harare International Airport on March 7 and against two already in Zimbabwe with Mann at the time. He also acquitted Mann of a charge of taking possession of the weapons.

Prosecutors had already dropped weapons charges against the plane's three-man crew.

But all 67 aboard have pleaded guilty to immigration and aviation violations carrying a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a fine.

Prosecutors say Equatorial Guinea's Spanish-based rebel leader, Severo Moto, offered the group pounds 1m and oil rights to overthrow the regime.

The suspects say they were heading for jobs protecting a mining operation in war-torn eastern Congo, and Mann testified that is what the weapons were for. Any purchase of "weapons of war" not sanctioned by the government is illegal under legislation in Zimbabwe.

All the accused were remanded in custody until September 10, when sentencing will begin.

Sir Mark, who was arrested at his Cape Town home on Wednesday, faces the possibility of 15 years in jail after being accused of violating South Africa's anti-mercenary law in connection with the alleged coup attempt.

* Disgraced peer Lord Archer has also been dragged into the affair. Reports say a J H Archer paid pounds 74,000 into a Guernsey bank account held by Mann just four days before his arrest.

Lord Archer has denied, through his lawyers, that he knows, has met or communicated with Mann, or that he had prior knowledge of any alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea.

He also denies having met or spoken to Sir Mark for about 10 years.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 28, 2004
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