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Equatorial Guinea Seeks Thatcher Extradition  - 2004-08-27


The government of Equatorial Guinea is seeking extradition from South Africa of Mark Thatcher, the son of a former British prime minister, in connection with an alleged coup plot. Mr. Thatcher has been under house arrest in Cape Town since Wednesday on charges connected with the alleged coup plot.

Government lawyers in the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, said Friday they have strong hopes they will be able to secure the extradition of Mr. Thatcher quickly, so he can face charges in a trial against mercenaries allegedly involved in a plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The lawyers say partnership in the Africa Union and civil conventions should make this extradition possible. But no formal request has been made, and formal charges against Mr. Thatcher have yet to be announced in Equatorial Guinea.

A London-based expert from the World Markets Research Center, Olly Owen, says Mr. Thatcher would face bleak prospects, if he were to face trial in Malabo.

"You can be fairly confident that court cases, which ensue there, while they might be procedurally quite exact, would also reflect the particular interest of government and the outcome that they would want. So, that's obviously something that he would wish to avoid," says Mr. Owen. "And if you look at the conditions of incarceration in that country, it's already been reported that of the mercenaries already detained in Equatorial Guinea, one of them has since died. And reports from other West African nationals who have been detained in that country suggest conditions of brutality in detention. So, that's obviously something that he would want to avoid, as well."

Mr. Thatcher was arrested Wednesday in South Africa on charges he had paid for some of the logistics of the coup attempt. He has been ordered to stay in the Cape Town area, where he resides, until he appears in court.

Lawyers for Mr. Thatcher have said he is innocent, and expressed confidence he will not be extradited. Mr. Owen agrees, saying he believes South Africa will want to handle this matter on its own. "They would like I'm sure to handle this case domestically, to give off a very strong signal about the foreign military assistance act," he says. "You know, to put a lid on, once and for all, this history that they have had of elements from South Africa being involved in destabilizing other African countries."

More than 80 foreigners, mostly from South Africa, are on trial simultaneously in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea on charges of involvement in the attempted coup.

Mr. Thatcher, who has been investigated before over suspicious financial dealings, is the son of Margaret Thatcher, Britain's conservative prime minister during the 1980's. She returned to London from the United States Friday, saying she was distressed and concerned.

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