Margaret Thatcher posts bail for son in South Africa

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher has agreed to post bail of 165,000 pounds (about 250,000 euros, 300,000 dollars) to free her son Mark from house arrest in South Africa, the Times newspaper reported.

Mark Thatcher, a 51-year-old businessman, was arrested in Cape Town a week ago on suspicion of helping to finance an alleged coup bid in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. He denies the allegation.

The Times said Margaret Thatcher, 78, had agreed to help her son after a telephone conversation on her return to Britain from a holiday in the United States on Friday.

"The money will be paid within 36 hours," it said.

The figure of 165,000 pounds is equivalent to two million South African rand - the amount that South African authorities have set as bail for Mark Thatcher.

Tim Bell, a London public relations consultant and Thatcher family friend authorised to speak on Mark Thatcher's behalf, told AFP he could not confirm the Times report.

He added that, under the terms of the "warning order" issued by the South African authorities, Mark Thatcher cannot leave the strict confines of his home until surety is paid.

Once that is done, he said, he would be able to move freely in Cape Town and vicinity, or - with permission - to other parts of South Africa, for instance to see lawyers in Johannesburg, Bell told AFP.

Baroness Thatcher, known as the Iron Lady when her Conservatives were in power in the 1980s, has made no public comment on her son's situation.

Mark Thatcher was arrested and charged on August 25 with contributing 275,000 dollars to the alleged plan to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema....

He has been charged under South Africa's law barring mercenary activity and faces a fine or jail term if convicted.

Thatcher's US-born wife, Diane, made a stopover in London on Tuesday en route to Dallas, Texas, to put their two children in US schools. Bell said he understood that they now have arrived in the southern American city.

[Source: Agence France Presse, London, UK, 01Sep04]

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