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THATCHER'S LAD HELD ON COUP BID: YOU'RE NICKED, SON; Police swoop on Sir Mark as Lord Archer is probed over cash.

Byline: GARY JONES and MARK ELLIS, Foreign Editor

MARK Thatcher was arrested when anti-fraud police dubbed the Scorpions swooped on his home at 7am yesterday.

Officers from the unit, modelled on America's FBI, searched his house in Cape Town, South Africa, examining documents and computers.

Sir Mark's lawyer Peter Hodes said he was held on suspicion of providing financing for a helicopter linked to the alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea.

A spokesman said: "The Scorpions do not just arrest people unless there is a very strong case. This man has a very serious case to answer."

After appearing in court Sir Mark - who could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted - said: "I am innocent of all charges against me. I have no involvement in any alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea and I reject all suggestions to the contrary."

Former Tory party chairman Lord Jeffrey Archer is also being investigated over the transfer of pounds 80,000 into the bank account of an accused ringleader's company, it emerged.

He also denied any involvement in the alleged plot.

Sir Mark, 51, son of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, appeared in Wynberg magistrates' court charged with violating South Africa's anti-mercenary laws. Special Operations Director Sipho Ngwema said: "We have credible evidence and information that he was involved in the attempted coup."

The case was delayed when he was robbed of his shoes, jacket and mobile phone in a crowded holding cell.

Sir Mark was freed on pounds 175,000 bail but put under virtual house arrest. He must report daily to police, can be away from home only "with the written permision of an investigating officer" and surrender his passport.

Sir Mark's twin sister Carol said yesterday she was worried how her mother will take the news.

Arriving back in Britain from Switzerland she said: "I am shocked. My real concern actually is for my mother. She is in America, I haven't spoken to her, I don't know her reaction and I care about her."

The 78-year-old former Prime Minister is due back tomorrow from holiday in America.

Her husband Sir Denis died in June last year and she is frail after a series of strokes. A Tory source said: "Of course there is a worry." The saga began when around 70 alleged mercenaries were arrested in Zimbabwe in March as they prepared to board a plane full of weapons. One was former SAS man Simon Mann, now on trial in Zimbabwe accused of being ringleader of the plot to oust the regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguem of Equatorial Guinea.

They were alleged to be hoping to exploit the country's massive oilfields - it has 10 per cent of the world's reserves and is Africa's third largest producer.

Another 19 men are on trial in Equatorial Guinea charged with attempting to assassinate the head of state, possessing arms and explosives, terrorism and treason. Verdicts are expected on Saturday. One, South African arms dealer Nick du Toit, said in court yesterday he did business with Sir Mark, who was interested in buying military hardware not involved in the plot.

A British lawyer for President Obiang Nguem claimed the accused were a "small club of buccaneers".

The lawyer added: "They probably considered themselves an intimate club of well heeled and well established figures who seem to have gone into this as a kind of adventure." A source in Zimbabwe said Mann, 51, was recently caught smuggling out a letter begging for help from friends named as Scratcher and Smelly.

Prosecution lawyers there say Scratcher was Sir Mark's nickname at school. It is claimed Smelly is Ely Calil, a millionaire London oil broker and close friend of Lord Archer.

Sir Mark moved to Cape Town in 1996 and lived in the same road as Mann, who is said to have had Christmas lunch with the family.

Lord Archer's name emerged in the investigation after a payment from a JH Archer was put into an account in Guernsey of Mann's company shortly before the alleged coup bid.

A lawyer for London law firm Penningtons, which is acting in the case, said the transfer was "being investigated, absolutely".

Lawyers for Lord Archer - who recently served a jail sentence for perjury - said he "emphatically denies" ever meeting or communicating with Mann or knowing of the alleged coup bid. He had not spoken to Sir Mark for about 10 years.

They added: "Mr Calil is a family friend and has at no time been a financial adviser to Lord Archer. Nor has Lord Archer ever been involved in business transactions with him."


THE SISTER; Twin Carol Thatcher yesterday, shocked to hear of the arrest; THE ARREST; SMILING: Sir Mark Thatcher is put into a police car to be driven to court after his arrest at dawn yesterday by members of South Africa's anti-fraud Scorpions unit. His Cape Town home had been under surveillance for weeks; THE MOTHER; Family are worried how Lady Thatcher will take the news; 'THE MERCENARIES'; Simon Mann, with beard, and fellow accused outside court; Millionaire oil broker Ely Calil is close friend of Archer; 'THE BANKER'; THE ARMS DEALER; Nick du Toit admits he did business with Sir Mark; THE PERJURER
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 26, 2004
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