Business Day ,  Johannesburg   January 14, 2005, gives us a report on the unfolding scheme to steal   Equatorial Guinea:

Plot highlights opaque world of African oil politics in country where US oil multinationals cash in

SIR Mark Thatcher's plea bargain, which includes an undertaking to co-operate with the Scorpions' investigation into last year's coup plot in Equatorial Guinea, is another domino falling in the bid to bring those responsible to book.

The investigators can now shift their sights to other players in the failed coup attempt. Two other alleged conspirators, David Tremain and Greg Wales, could soon be in trouble.

Late last year the first domino fell when Crause Steyl, the South African pilot and right-hand man to the coup plot's alleged ringleader, Simon Mann entered into a plea bargain with the Scorpions to escape prosecution.

Mann is already serving a jail sentence in a Harare prison for attempting to buy weapons in Zimbabwe for use in the planned attempt to overthrow oil-rich Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Tremain and Wales were named by Steyl in court documents filed during Thatcher's plea bargain. The UK citizens were alleged to be key figures in planning the coup.

Steyl named Tremain as a friend of Thatcher, and on Thatcher's involvement - and this prompted Thatcher to seek a deal, although he says the strain of separation from his family in the US was the main factor behind his decision.

When Steyl began working with the Scorpions, investigators indicated that their case did not end with Thatcher.

More evidence needed to be collected, and it was too soon to apply for the extradition of the UK suspects to face charges of mercenary activity in SA, they said.

The fact that the Scorpions agreed to bring Thatcher's case forward - he was due to appear again only in April on charges of contravening the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act - means they can ratchet up their investigations and move against Tremain and Wales soon.

The crux of Thatcher's admission in his plea bargain is that he financed the chartering of a helicopter.

He was not found guilty of any mercenary activity, a significant legal point that counted in his favour when he agreed to pay a fine of R3m (or face five years' imprisonment) with an additional four-year prison sentence being suspended for five years. Thatcher admitted paying $275000 to charter the helicopter, which was to be used in the coup attempt.

By Thatcher's own admission he began to suspect Mann might be planning mercenary activity in west Africa.

But, "despite these misgivings, Thatcher decided to invest money in the helicopter which was to be used for mercenary activity", the plea bargain reads.

Because of an agreement that both sides refrain from comment, Thatcher's actions cannot be further explained.

Thatcher's decision to plead guilty to helping an alleged African coup plot is the latest twist in one of the more bizarre and murky tales in the continent's history of power struggles involving natural resources.
The plot has highlighted the opaque world of African oil politics, the opportunists inhabiting it and the abusive and secretive nature of a country where US oil multinationals pump more than 300000 barrels of crude oil a day.

<> (Johannesburg)