Thatcher in South African Court for Coup Case

Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, appeared in a South African court on Tuesday on charges he helped bankroll a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.

The court is holding two days of hearings on whether the government acted legally in summoning Thatcher, a 51-year-old businessman who has lived in South Africa since 1995. He was arrested in Cape Town on Aug. 25.

Thatcher arrived at the Cape High Court looking relaxed. He sat directly behind his lawyer making notes and tapping a pen on his knee.

Defense lawyer Peter Hodes said the government would be assisting Equatorial Guinea (search) in an unfair trial by forcing Thatcher to answer questions about his alleged involvement in the coup attempt.

"What we are dealing with in Equatorial Guinea is a military tribunal or there is a good possibility that it is," Hodes said.

Equatorial Guinea wants to question a number of prominent Britons about allegations they financed a plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema (search), who has ruled Africa's third-largest oil producer for the 25 years.

Nineteen people are on trial in Equatorial Guinea, including Nick Du Toit (search), a South African arms dealer alleged to have led an advance team for the plot.

Du Toit, the only suspect facing the death penalty, has testified that he met with Thatcher and others repeatedly in the months before the alleged coup attempt.

Thatcher, who denies the charges, says he will cooperate with authorities.

Last month Simon Mann (search), a former British special forces commander accused of organizing the failed coup plot, was sentenced to seven years in prison for trying to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms manufacturer.

Mann's 67 accused accomplices, arrested when their aging Boeing 727 landed at the Harare International Airport on March 7, received sentences of 12 months to 16 months for minor immigration and aviation violations.