Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Thatcher & Simon Mann's African Coup

Thatcher Goes Free

Mark Thatcher was the last figure charged in the coup to face legal proceedings.

He was under intense pressure from his family and British authorities to accept a plea agreement to a lesser charge that would eliminate the possibility of imprisonment. However, Thatcher had stubbornly refused to acknowledge that he knew anything about the coup, insisting he was an arms dealer who agreed to provide a Russian-built Mil helicopter, to be used as an air ambulance in Equatorial Guinea.

In a statement released by his lawyers he said, "I am innocent of all charges made against me. I have been and am cooperating fully with the authorities in order to resolve the matter. I have no involvement in an alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea and I reject all suggestions to the contrary."

Yet prosecutors say they have solid evidence implicating Thatcher in the plot.

"We allege he is one of the financiers of the coup to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea and we have received credible evidence that he has assisted financially in that regard," said Sipho Ngwema, a spokesman for the elite Scorpions investigative unit of the South African police. "Anyone who is using this country as a springboard for violence and disorder, we are going to deal with those persons quite strongly."

In January 2005, Thatcher finally admitted to South African authorities that he knew the helicopter was to be used by mercenaries in the Equatorial Guinea coup.

Convicted of violating South Africa's mercenary ban, he was fined $500,000 and given a four-year suspended prison sentence.

Outside court, Thatcher told reporters, "There is no price too high for me to pay to be reunited with my family, and I am sure all of you who are husbands and fathers would agree with that."

Finally free to leave the country after five months, Thatcher did so in a hurry.

He is said to have spent a week in Europe before joining his family in Texas.

Thatcher had hoped to reunite quickly with his wife and two children in Dallas, but the United States government denied him the resident visa that would have allowed him to live in the country.

The Bush administration apparently gave him no special treatment; it mulled his application for more than two months before rejecting it on the grounds of his criminal background. And it went so far as to advise Thatcher against traveling here on a tourist visa — apparently with an unspoken threat of arrest.

"It is quite true that my visa application has been rejected," Thatcher said in a statement to the press in London, where he has been living with his mother. "It was always a calculated risk when I plea bargained in South Africa. As a result of this decision, I shall make the family home in Europe, not the UK, and my family will be joining me as soon as arrangements are made."

The reunion apparently didn't go so well. Nine months after he was freed, the Thatchers announced they were divorcing.

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