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Thatcher to Face Questioning on Alleged Equatorial Guinea Plot

A court in South Africa has ruled that Mark Thatcher must answer questions from Equatorial Guinea about an alleged coup plot that he is accused of funding. The Cape High Court says Mark Thatcher must face questions by prosecutors from Equatorial Guinea regarding his role in the alleged coup plot.

The hearing is scheduled for Friday, when a South African magistrate is expected to put the questions to the 51-year-old son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. A full bench of the High Court rejected Mr. Thatcher's argument that the questions would violate his constitutional rights to silence, and to avoid incriminating himself.

Judge Dion van Zyl said at no stage have those rights been violated or even threatened. The judge said Mr. Thatcher will still have the right to refuse to answer individual questions. Mr. Thatcher's lawyers say they are still deciding whether to appeal the judgment. Mr. Thatcher spoke briefly with reporters on the steps of the courthouse after the verdict was announced. "It is a long judgment, but the most important thing is that the court did affirm my right to silence," said Mark Thatcher.

"An Equatorial Guinea court has charged Mr. Thatcher in absentia with participating in the coup plot. His lawyers in Cape Town also argued that South Africa should not cooperate with Equatorial Guinea's request because he and another South African man accused in that case could face the death penalty.

South Africa's highest court has ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. But Judge van Zyl rejected that argument as well. He said the South African justice minister acted within her rights by agreeing to Equatorial Guinea's request for cooperation. Portions of his judgment were broadcast by South African state radio and television. "The suggestion that the first respondent has, by approving the request for assistance submitted by Equatorial Guinea, associated herself and the South African government with the possible imposition of the death penalty is a gross exaggeration, if not an unfair misrepresentation of the government's declared policy," said Dion van Zyl.

Mr. Thatcher is due in court again Thursday to face charges that he violated South Africa's anti-mercenary law. The businessman is accused of giving $275,000 to alleged coup-plot ringleader Simon Mann, an old school friend, to help fund a scheme to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's president. But Mr. Thatcher insists he is innocent, and his lawyers say the funds were intended for something else.

Nineteen men of various nationalities are on trial in Equatorial Guinea for alleged involvement in the coup plot, and scores more are serving jail terms in Zimbabwe on related charges.