Thatcher's wife and children set to quit South Africa for US

The family of Mark Thatcher, who was arrested in South Africa last week on suspicion of financing a coup attempt in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, left his Cape Town home yesterday intending to leave the country.

Thatcher’s American wife, Diane, the daughter of a millionaire Texas car dealer, and their two children drove to Cape Town airport yesterday, for a flight bound for the United States.

The family’s departure comes as the South African government considers a request by Equatorial Guinea to question Thatcher about his alleged involvement in a foiled coup plot in the oil-rich west African nation.

The department of foreign affairs received Equatorial Guinea’s request to question Thatcher on Friday and conveyed it to the justice ministry yesterday, ministry spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said.

Thatcher, the 51-year-old son of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, is under house arrest on charges that he helped to fund the buying of a helicopter to be used in the coup.

He denies any involvement, and has until 8 September to post £166,000 bail.

Equatorial Guinea says it already has requested an international arrest warrant for Thatcher and other Britons accused of contracting with a Spanish-based opposition leader and international mercenaries to finance a plot to overthrow Teodoro Obiang Nguema, president of the nation of 500,000 people.

The country is sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest producer of oil.

Thatcher’s legal counsel, Philip Higgo, said his client was co-operating with the South African authorities and also would be willing to answer questions from Equatorial Guinea officials.

A total of 88 men are now in custody in South Africa, Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe in connection with the plot, allegedly foiled in March.

Two South Africans acquitted by a Zimbabwean court of weapons charges related to the alleged coup plot have been charged with violations of anti-mercenary laws in their own country.

Less than 48 hours after returning home, Harry Carlse and Lourens Horn reported to the National Prosecuting Authority in Pretoria for questioning.

Their lawyer, Alwyn Griebenow, said they were charged with violating South Africa’s Foreign Military Assistance Act. "They have not been arrested and are free to live their lives until a summons is issued next week," he said.

[Sourece: Rhiannon Edward, The Scotsman, Scotland, 31Aug04]

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