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SAS Brit guilty of Africa plot.

Byline: By Mark Ellis

A CLOSE pal of Mark Thatcher was yesterday convicted over a plot to topple the government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.

Simon Mann was found guilty as Margaret Thatcher cut short her holiday in the US to fly home for briefings on her son's crisis.

Mann, the ringleader of the plot, was convicted in Zimbabwe of trying to buy weapons and faces 10 years in jail.

The verdict came as Equatorial Guinea - which still has the death penalty - asked for Mark Thatcher to be extradited from South Africa to face charges linked to the plot.

Frail-looking ex-PM Margaret Thatcher ignored questions from journalists as she arrived at her five-storey townhouse in Belgravia, central London, surrounded by police and bodyguards.

The 78-year-old's spokesman Lord Bell said: 'She is obviously disressed about the fact her son appears to be in some difficulty.

'She is very confident about the South African legal process and she is sure he will be cleared at the end of it.'

Mann, 51, is an Old Etonian and former SAS officer with a home in Hampshire.

He admitted trying to order assault rifles, grenades, anti-tank rocket launchers and other weapons from the Zimbabwe Defence Industries.

He will be sentenced on September 10. However, 66 other suspected mercenaries were acquitted of charges.

Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said prosecutors had failed to prove their case against 64 men arrested when their Boeing 727 landed in Harare on March 7 and against two who were already in Zimbabwe with Mann at the time.

He then acquitted Mann of an additional charge of taking possession of the weapons.

Mark Thatcher, 51, was in his luxurious Cape Town home - where he is under house arrest after detectives swooped on Wednesday - when he heard the news of Mann's conviction.

Thatcher already faces up to 15 years jail in South Africa if convicted of involvement in financing the coup. He was released on pounds 175,000 bail after denying the charge.

One of Thatcher's lawyers, Phillip Higgo, said Mann's conviction had 'no bearing' on his client's case.

South Africa has no extradition treaty with Equatorial Guinea and would be unwilling to extradite to a country using the death penalty.

South African police want to quiz Lord Archer, who is said to have paid pounds 80,000 to fund Mann's planned coup.

Other well-connected Britons are believed to have put money in - hoping to reap fantastic returns from an oil bonanza in Equatorial Guinea.

CAPTION(S):

ARMS DEAL: Former SAS officer Simon Mann yesterday with some of the other men who were accused of being mercenaries; RETURN: Thatcher; ACCUSED: Mark Thatcher
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 28, 2004
Words:437
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