The prospect of Sir Mark Thatcher being allowed to return to the US to rejoin
his wife and children in Dallas became more uncertain last night, as new evidence
emerged that his role in an African coup attempt may have been more central than
has been admitted, and involved questionable activities in the US.
A senior former state department official in Washington, Joseph Sala, has disclosed
he was hired by the plotters to gain US support for the coup. Mr Sala tells a
BBC3 TV programme tonight that he was offered $40,000 (£21,351) to promote
the plotters' cause there. Records for Sir Mark's mobile phone show that he was
among those placing calls to a London businessman accused of masterminding the
Eli Calil, a millionaire middleman in African oil deals and a friend of the
Labour politician Peter Mandelson, was allegedly at the centre of a group of
London businessmen and mercenaries trying to promote their own candidate to
take over the tiny but oil-rich state of Equatorial Guinea.
Its ruler, President Teodoro Obiang, was believed to be dying of cancer, and
valuable oil concessions were hoped to be up for grabs. Much of the country's
mushrooming oil industry is controlled by US companies.
Sir Mark is in limbo, staying at his mother's house in London while he attempts
to renew his visa to gain entry to the US. The US authorities are deciding whether
to grant him admission, despite his having a criminal conviction.
The former prime minister's son fled South Africa following his conviction
and £270,000 fine there for financing a helicopter gunship to be used
in the coup. In a plea bargain, Sir Mark admitted investing in the mercenaries'
scheme, despite realising the helicopter "might" be used for mercenary
activity. He and his friends have tried to present his role as unwitting and
But the new evidence appears to place him at the centre of events. Phone records
which the Guardian has seen show him placing two international calls from his
home in South Africa to the mobile phone of Eli Calil, then based in his London
mansion in Chelsea.
The calls were made within half an hour on February 2 last year, when planning
for the coup was at its height. A fortnight earlier, Sir Mark had invested $275,000
during meetings in South Africa. Other alleged plotters had travelled to Spain
to brief their candidate for president, the exiled African politician Severo
Moto. In a third key leg of the alleged plan, a British businessman, Greg Wales,
went to the US and hired a lobbyist who had influence in Washington.
Joseph Sala, who now runs the lobbying firm the ANN Group, says in tonight's
programme: "The arrangement that we struck with Wales and the friends of
Moto [unidentified] in February was that we would be paid $40,000 to put together
a four-day programme for Moto in Washington, access to the Congress, think-tanks,
media". He tells the programme, Thatcher and the Coup that Failed, that
"the assumption in Washington would be that Calil wanted access to Equatorial
Guinea's oil and that he, Calil, was prepared to do whatever was necessary to
bring Moto to power on the assumption that Moto would return the favour.
"It's callous, it's crude, but it's the way of the world."
Mr Sala says it was only when he visited state department officials on Mr Moto's
behalf that he discovered the true financial backer was Eli Calil. He says the
plotters were not honest with him, and concealed their intention to use mercenaries
to overthrow the regime. Lord Bell, the public relations man who has been acting
as spokesman for Sir Mark, told the Guardian he had no comment on the allegations
about Sir Mark's phone calls. Mr Calil and Mr Wales are both still at liberty
and deny involvement in the coup attempt.