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'Coup leader:' I met Mark Thatcher

70 men held in Zimbabwe were also linked with the alleged plot.
Equatorial Guinea

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (Reuters) -- A South African on trial for plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea said on Wednesday he had discussed a business deal last year with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's son, who has been arrested in South Africa.

Mark Thatcher was arrested on Wednesday at his home in a Cape Town suburb and later charged with involvement in the plot to oust the president of tiny Equatorial Guinea, sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest oil producer, and install an exiled opposition leader.

Defendant Nick du Toit said he was introduced to Thatcher in South Africa last year by Simon Mann, the leader of 70 men arrested in Zimbabwe in March suspected of being a group of mercenaries heading to Equatorial Guinea.

"That's correct. I can't remember the exact date but yes," said du Toit, when asked by a state prosecutor if he had met Thatcher in July. "I was introduced to Mr Mark Thatcher by Mr Simon Mann."

"Mr Thatcher wanted to buy helicopters from me. I had helicopters available, stationed in Zambia. We talked about that helicopter deal," said du Toit, adding that he did not discuss anything else with Thatcher.

"In my business I also sold military helicopters and I had some available," said the South African.

Military sources in his home country say du Toit is a former member of a South African reconnaissance unit and had worked in Sierra Leone and Angola for a now defunct mercenary group called Executive Outcomes founded by Mann.

"(Thatcher) had a mining operation going in Sudan and he wanted two Mi-8 helicopters for Sudan," said du Toit, who appeared in court wearing black shorts, a dark blue T-shirt and flip-flops, with his feet and hands shackled.

Obiang has ruled Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony split between volcanic islands and a mountainous jungle mainland, since he seized power from his uncle in a 1979 coup and had him executed.

Obiang has said the plot was a conspiracy by foreign firms and countries to replace him with opposition politician Severo Moto, who heads a government-in-exile in Spain.

"Today we've had the principle accused recognizing in court publicly that in July 2003 he met Mark Thatcher on the initiative of Simon Mann, who is leader of this escapade on the ground," said Paris-based lawyer Rasseck Bourgi, who represents Equatorial Guinea in a UK civil suit.

Obiang is seeking millions of pounds of damages in London's High Court against Mann, Moto, London businessman Greg Wales and Eli Calil, a London-based oil tycoon, for conspiracy to kidnap or murder the president.

Du Toit said on Tuesday he had met Greg Wales in South Africa in meetings with Mann, along with David Hart, a former unofficial adviser to Margaret Thatcher.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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