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Thatcher was planning to flee - report

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By Agencies

THE Scorpions arrested Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, because he was planning to relocate to the United States next week, the elite detective unit said on Thursday.

"I can confirm he was planning to leave the country," spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi said.

"He claims he was planning to relocate his family. He was supposed to leave for the US next week," Nkosi added.

The 51-year-old millionaire businessman and baronet was arrested on Wednesday for his alleged role in providing financial or logistical support to an alleged coup attempt in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.

Such support would contravene of South Africa's anti-mercenary Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act.

ThisDay newspaper reported on Thursday that Thatcher had sold four luxury vehicles, put his luxurious house at 10 Dawn Avenue, Constantia, on the market for R22-million and reserved flights for his Texan-born wife, Diane, and two children to the United States on Monday.

Thatcher was released on Wednesday afternoon. Magistrate Awie Kotze gave him until September 6 to post R2-million bail and ordered him to appear in court again on November 25.

The Scorpions said they had a watertight case against Thatcher, who was allegedly involved in shady deals in the Middle East and Asia when his mother was in power.

Prosecutor Torie Pretorius, attached to the Priority Criminal Investigation Unit, told the court that Thatcher faced two charges — contravention of the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act and conspiracy to contravene the act.

Pretorius said Thatcher provided $275 000 (about R1.828-million) to finance to coup attempt.

Thatcher maintains his innocence, saying he was not behind the plot.

"I am innocent of all charges made against me. I have been and am co-operating fully with the authorities in order to resolve the matter," he said in a statement.

"I have no involvement in an alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea and I reject all suggestions to the contrary."

Thatcher has been linked to one of the alleged masterminds of the coup plot, Simon Mann, who is currently on trial in Zimbabwe in connection with the coup attempt.

Mann, who has a home near Thatcher's in Constantia, and 69 other men were arrested in Harare in March about the same time as 15 other suspected foreign mercenaries were detained in Malabo, accused of being the advance party for the operation.

That trial is set to resume on Friday.

In Malabo, eight South Africans and six Armenians, as well as four Equato-Guineans, have been on trial since Monday for the alleged coup plot.

On Wednesday, the South African leader of the men admitted to having met Thatcher in July 2003 to discuss the sale of helicopters for mining operations to Sudan.

"We talked strictly about business issues concerning the sale and purchase of helicopters," said Nick du Toit, who faces the death penalty for his alleged role in the affair..Sapa

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