‘Dimwit’ beyond mum’s help

Sir Mark Thatcher has accumulated a £60-million (about R720-million) fortune through his ”business” activities — but Britain’s most tenacious journalists have failed to uncover precisely what these activities entail.

On one aspect, however, they agree: Thatcher’s financial career took off after his mother, Margaret Thatcher, became Britain’s prime minister in 1979 and he traded on her position to clinch various deals, mostly in the arms trade. His fortune is said to be ”salted away in a labyrinth of offshore bank accounts”.

Mark Thatcher’s main known activities are:

  • In 1986 a R144-million commission in connection with British Aerospace’s sale of military jets and other hardware to the Saudi Arabian government for £20-billion, known as the Al-Yamamah deal;

  • A substantial commission resulting from a British contract to build Malaysia’s Pergau dam;

  • A R36-million commission arising from a R3,6-billion construction contract secured by a British firm, Cementation, in Oman in 1984. Questioned in Parliament about her support for the contract, Margaret Thatcher said she was ”batting for Britain”;

  • In 1986 Thatcher was questioned in Parliament about her son’s relationship with the Sultan of Brunei and her support for a contract she claimed was in Britain’s interests;

  • Mark Thatcher dabbled in business in Hong Kong, establishing a network of associates in the Near and Far East in the motor rally world, and started a car company, Mark Thatcher Racing, which ran into ”cash problems”; and

  • In the early 1980s he set up an international consultancy, Monteagle Marketing.

    In 1984 he moved to the United States, where he worked for R545 000 a year as the representative of British car-maker Lotus. Three years later he consolidated his vehicle interests by marrying Diane Burgdorf, daughter of a millionaire who sold used cars.

    Also in 1984, Thatcher was sued by Houston aircraft refuelling company Ameristar, which claimed he had used illegal means to take control. The case brought the controversial Briton to the attention of the US’s formidable Inland Revenue, and after an out-of-court settlement of about £2-million, he moved on to Cape Town in 1996.

    In his travels as an (alleged) wildlife photographer, Thatcher used a bullet-proof custom-built Land Rover, had a bodyguard and carried ”wads of foreign currency”. He held clandestine meetings with influential officials and used both a British and a South African passport.

    At school Thatcher was known as ”Thickie Mark”. He passed three O levels, did not attend university and failed accountancy exams three times.

    The British press indicated on Thursday that he could expect little sympathy for his plight. One headline read ”Spoilt dimwit with mystery fortune”, and another: ”It is hard to feel sorry for Mark Thatcher”.

    But the conservative Daily Mail commented: ”Mark Thatcher may have many shortcomings … But to amass a reputed £60-million fortune without breaking sweat, much less running any identifiable corporate enterprise, requires a sharpness and cunning for which his detractors rarely give him credit.”

  • Stanley Uys is the former political editor of South Africa’s Sunday Times and now a London-based freelance journalist

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