'Scratcher' faces questions over 'Wonga Coup'
From the windows of the £3-million Casa Flores mansion in one of the Costa del Sol’s most exclusive and luxurious enclaves, there are unspoilt views across woodland and immaculate golf courses to the shimmering Mediterranean Sea.
It is safe to say that the breathtaking view from this most desirable and expensive of spots is a world away from the one seen from behind the bars of Equatorial Guinea’s infamous Black Beach prison.
The connection between these two extremes of luxury and degradation lies in the people who inhabit them. For while Black Beach has been home to coup plotter Simon Mann, Casa Flores is the comfortable and discreet retreat of his old friend and drinking partner, Sir Mark Thatcher.
This ochre-coloured mansion tucked away in the exclusive El Madroñal estate is where Lady Thatcher’s son came to enjoy the luxuries of wealth while escaping the glare of publicity, and the public shame, caused by his self-confessed involvement in the so-called “Wonga Coup”.
Guarded by security cameras and private guards who patrol the gated estate, he has led a life of discretion—only spoiled by a tiff over unpaid monthly rent of £5 500 with his landlord and friend from Harrow school, Stephen Humberstone.
He has even found time to divorce his first wife, Diane, and slip down the road to Gibraltar to marry again—this time to Sarah Russell, sister-in-law of Daily Mail boss Lord Rothermere.
As of today, however, the focus was back on Thatcher as authorities in Equatorial Guinea insisted the case against him was still open, despite Mann’s release.
The current head of the country’s supreme court, José Olo Obono, said his country would not give up its attempts to put those it suspected of taking part in the coup plot on trial.
“We want to pursue all those who are implicated in the case,” he said.
He named Thatcher as one of the main suspects, though there has been no attempt to extradite him from Spain.
If the former prime minister’s son was ever unwise enough to appear in Equatorial Guinea, Olo Obono would show him documents that, he said, proved his participation in the coup plot. “There is uncontrovertible evidence that he helped finance the coup. We have documents that prove that. I’d love to talk to him.”
Thatcher himself was not, however, available to answer the allegations at his Spanish house on Tuesday. A gardener who answered the bell at the gates which give on to a drive running up to the secluded house said that he and his wife had gone shopping for the day. A Jeep Cherokee and a sports car, possibly a Porsche, were the only signs of his new life that could be glimpsed from a gateway which bore the warning “property protected by security systems”.
The estate, in the hills above San Pedro de Alcantara, is not the only foreign spot where Thatcher has tried to make his life. His former home was in South Africa, the country where he both prospered and got to know Mann’s “Wonga” plotters.
Five months after the botched 2004 coup, Thatcher’s South African idyll came to an abrupt end. He was arrested at his Cape Town house by police investigating his role in the shambolic plot.
He eventually struck a plea bargain with prosecutors, admitting that he had given one plotter, the South African pilot Crause Steyl, $275 000 to buy a helicopter. After first claiming that he thought it was for an air ambulance, Thatcher eventually admitted he had suspected it “might be used for mercenary activity”.
He was given a $450 000 fine and a four-year suspended sentence, and was acutely aware of the disgrace. “I will never be able to do business again,” he told Vanity Fair. “Who will deal with me?” Worse still, he now has a criminal record and is barred from the US, where his ex-wife now lives with their daughter.
Ely Calil, the British-Lebanese millionaire whom authorities in Equatorial Guinea also want to interview about the coup, came to Thatcher’s defence in a Daily Telegraph interview last year. “He was like a prize to Simon [Mann],” Calil said. “They got drunk in South Africa together and who knows what they talked about, but he had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with a coup.”
Even among the coup plotters, who dubbed him “Scratcher”, he was always a strange figure. “Thatcher was despised as arrogant, pushy and not very bright,” said author Adam Roberts, who interviewed him for his book The Wonga Coup. Aware that he was not fully accepted by the former SAS men and other plotters, Thatcher occasionally introduced himself with the phrase: “Hello, I’m charmless Mark.”
“Not the sharpest pebble on the beach,” one plotter told Roberts. Another contemporary said he had “an ego the size of a herd of elephants and the attention span of a gnat”.
Thatcher matched their scorn by ignoring later pleas for help. A letter written by Mann from prison said Thatcher appeared to ignore calls to help him: “Scratcher asked them to ring back after the grand prix was over! This is not going well.”
Now that Mann is free from jail, Thatcher’s old drinking partner will have an opportunity to tell the world exactly who was involved—and how—in the plot. Thatcher will be hoping Mann retracts evidence he gave, possibly under pressure, in Malabo. Then, Mann claimed that Thatcher had provided $350 000 in funding and “was not just an investor, he came completely on board and became a part of the management team”. - guardian.co.uk