The sudden dropping of charges this week against three men accused of plotting to kidnap senior members of the African National Congress in London has lifted the lid on an extraordinary tale of intrigue – but left a host of questions unanswered.
The men had been accused by a British prosecutor of hatching a "well thought-out plot" to kidnap top ANC officials, who would then be smuggled to South Africa via a boat moored on the Thames. New, bizarre details emerged yesterday – after the decision to drop the charges on grounds of "insufficient evidence" was announced at Lambeth Magistrate's Court.
The men's defence lawyer had warned in remand hearings that if the case were pursued, he would be forced to "prejudice national security" by naming a "minister of the Crown" and other senior members of the British government involved in the "conspiracy", said to involve British and American intelligence and extend to an alleged plot to topple the Seychelles government.
It seems certain a plot to kidnap ANC members did exist, despite denials by the accused – a "hit list" has been seen by reliable sources. But, although it has been alleged that at least some of the accused were British undercover agents, probably in M16, it is not clear where the impetus for the plan came from.
Even the identities and nationalities of the accused are shrouded in mystery. They were named as Frank Larsen, 53, Jonathan Wheatley, 28, and Evan Dennis Evans, 48, the last, named on bail when the release announcement was made. A fourth man facing the same charge, named as John Larsen, 27, was discharged on October 1.
- "Frank Larsen", named on the charge sheet as a psychologist born in Zimbabwe, is reputed to be one Viggo Orebak, a Norwegian who enlisted in the Rhodesian army before Zimbabwean independence. He claims to have been acting as a British undercover agent. It is thought, he will face deportation to Norway. *Jonathan Wheatley, described on the charge sheet as unemployed, shared a house near Aldershot with both "Larsens", and also indicated he was an agent.
- A solicitor acting for the two told a London newspaper he "did not deny that (his clients) had been working for the British government and that they had a large amount of documentation concerning matters of national security in their possession."
- "John Larsen", described as a computer technician, was presented as "Frank Larsen's" son, but is said by some sources in London to in fact be his lover – real name Hans Kristian Dahl. He is thought likely to be deported to Norway.
- Evan Dennis Evans was described as a sub-postmaster in Anglesey, North Wales. He is alleged to have been a sabotage expert in the Rhodesian and South African armies for 15 years, up to 1985.
A "hit-list" of ANC members was allegedly found in the possession of Wheatley and the Larsens when Scotland Yard's Anti-Terrorist Squad raided a home in Hampshire in July, Police also found a vast quantity of documentation, including a classified Ministry of Defence manual and Foreign Office material. The entire episode is riddled with extraordinary, allegations, some of which sources in London describe as "more plausible" than others.
Sources say British and American involvement in subversion against the Seychelles government "doesn't ring politically true", as relations between those two countries and the Seychelles government are by no means strained. Also, say the sources, it is unlikely that UK and US intelligence services would easily become involved in an operation which bore the risk of exposing contacts with their South African counterparts. What is more likely, they say, is that the defence used the Seychelles issue to "blackmail" the Department of Public Prosecutions into dropping charges, for fear of allowing sensitive information to reach the public domain.
Had documentation in the possession of the men been leaked, according to the defence, the effect would have been "catastrophic" and cause "a great deal of embarrassment to the British government". There are further ironies and imponderables: the defence claims the Anti-Terrorist Squad "accidentally stumbled across" the activities of the alleged agents. Such a lack of communication and cooperation between different branches of British security has often been publicized.
"The only reason why matters have gone this far is a lack of communication between the various government agencies," said a defence lawyer. "No arrests should ever have been necessary." In a further twist to the tale, while Evans walked free from the court yesterday, "Frank Larsen" and Jonathan Wheatley stayed in prison – apparently by choice.
Defence counsel said he "feared for their safety, especially that of Wheatley, who he said might be abducted. They were "content" to stay in prison for another seven days, he said. Asked to expand upon this remark by reporters in London, he said: "Allegations have been made that they were conspiring to kidnap the ANC isn't that sufficient?" It is not clear when they will actually walk out of the prison gates. – Shaun Johnson.
The 'hit list'
The Weekly Mail has been told that the full 'kidnap-list' – which the British have never published – Included these names: Oliver Tambo, Reg September, Solly Smith, Phyllis Altman, Azaz Pahad, Barry Gilder, Frene Ginwala, PalIo Jordan, Brian Bunting, Ronnie Kasrils, Shawn Stove, (unknown first name) Jassert, Francis Mezi, Ismail (unknown surname), Abdul Bham, Freedom Mkwanazi, M Themba, Thabo Mbeki.
ANC demands 'explanation'
The African National Congress has demanded an explanation from the British government for the court decision to free the three alleged kidnappers. An ANC spokesman said yesterday: "This decision comes as a complete surprises particularly in view of the fact that the ANC has more than once been informed by the police that they were treating the case with utmost seriousness.
"In addition, evidence had already been led in court pointing to the fact that the British government knew a great deal about the activities of the accused. The allegations made by the defense lawyers raise matters of the gravest concern to the ANC and indeed the whole of Africa." Included amongst these allegations was the suggestion that the "conspiracy" to kidnap top ANC members was linked to a wider strategy involving subversion in the Seychelles.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.