Margaret Thatcher's son linked to coup trial.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's son, Mark, could be dragged into the trial of alleged mercenaries accused of plotting to overthrow the Equatorial Guinea government.

Sources close to Simon Mann, the former Special Air Services (SAS) officer named as the coup's ringleader, say he might use his appearance in a Zimbabwe court on Wednesday to appeal to his friend Thatcher for help.

Mann was arrested earlier this year in Zimbabwe, allegedly with a plane full of mercenaries, many of them South African, on their way to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.

Plotters were said to be hoping to exploit the country's lucrative oil reserves after overthrowing its president and installing their preferred candidate.

Mann's lawyers maintain he and the men being detained with him were on their way to provide security at diamond mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Simon Mann, 46, the son of former English cricket captain, George, who holds both British and South African passports, was educated at Britain's best-known private school, Eton. He went on to officer training at the prestigious Sandhurst Academy.

He joined the SAS and is reported to have served in Cyprus, Germany, Norway, Canada, central America and Northern Ireland before leaving the army in 1981.

His wife Amanda, who is pregnant at home in England, is believed to be angry and disappointed that his friends have not helped him out of jail.

He and his 69 co-defendants have spent the past four months shackled hand and foot 24-hours a day in prison with access to lawyers repeatedly refused.

He is now said to be considering making a public appeal at the opening of the trial to Thatcher and other friends to help him.

Mark, Lady Thatcher's only son, lives with his wife Diane and their two children in the affluent Cape Town suburb of Constantia, close to Mann's home. Mann is said to have had Christmas lunch with the Thatchers in 2003, when Lady Thatcher was also present.

Friends of 50-year-old Mark confirmed that he was a friend of Mann's, but he was in Dallas, Texas, on Monday evening and could not be reached for comment.

Zimbabwe recently changed its extradition laws to include Equatorial Guinea, and the mercenaries' families fear they could be sent there for trial, with the possibility of a death sentence if found guilty.

Evidence that the 70 men arrested in Harare were connected to another group of 15 who had already reached Equatorial Guinea and whose leader has confessed to the coup plot on state television will be put before the court set up in Harare's Chikurubi maximum security prison.

All are accused of conspiring to overthrow Equatorial Guinea President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in order to install his rival, Severo Moto, in return for a stake in the country s vast oil wealth.

The alleged plotters were caught after a tip-off from South Africa's intelligence service, the Scorpions, that Mann and his associates were buying weapons.

Twenty South Africans are among those now in Chikurubi jail, along with Namibians, Angolans and Congolese.

Several of them are former members of South Africa's notorious Buffalo Battalion who fought in Namibia and Angola in the 1970s and 1980s.

The greying 51-year-old Mann, who is being held in solitary confinement, is linked to mercenary and security outfits set up in the early 1990s.

He and Nick du Toit, a South African being held as a co-conspirator in Equatorial Guinea, set up Executive Outcomes, which operated from Pretoria and helped the Angolan government protect its oil installations from rebels during the war.

Reports say he worked briefly selling advanced computer software before accepting contracts for security work.

In England, he is reported to own Inchmery, an estate that once belonged to the wealthy Rothschild family.

But until recently, he was living in a luxurious house in Cape Town with his wife Amanda. He has six children.

Imprisoned in Harare's top jail and granted only one basic meal a day, Mann's circumstances have now changed beyond recognition.

His South African lawyer, Alwyn Griebenow, who has met with Mann on several occasions to discuss the case, says he is coping well with the situation.

Mann's past activities in Angola and elsewhere will not be admissible evidence in court, Griebenow said.

"Even if state prosecutors try to make him out as a mercenary for his involvement in Angola, it doesn't mean that in this instance he was doing the same work," he said.

[Source: By Barbara Jones and Sapa-AFP, Daily News, 20Jul04]

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