Mark Thatcher: corruption and crime wander through the rich

Mark Thatcher and Margaret Thatcher
To the left: Mark Thatcher. To the right: Margaret Thatcher. In-between: BAE.

From “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade” by Andrew Feinstein; I’ve edited some for brevity. Also see the documentary that was released this year!

In 1969, Said linked with Akram Ojjeh, a Saudi arms dealer and financier. Ojjeh’s son Mansour would become a friend of Mark Thatcher while involved in their mutual passion, motor racing.

[Mark Thatcher’s] involvement in the Al Yamamah contract was originally kept secret. He now openly admits his role as an adviser on the deal but denies taking commissions. He told the Daily Telegraph in 2001:

Quite honestly, I thought I was doing this country a favour. I have never even sold a penknife. I was not paid a penny [for advising British Aerospace] but I benefited because the project led to construction in Saudi Arabia that involved my companies. But it [the Al Yamamah deal] has led me to being portrayed as an arms dealer: as if I had a catalogue of weapons. Even now I get letters from people inquiring whether I can help them sell second-hand tanks or ammunition.

On another occasion he opined: ‘if I am an arms dealer, then the chairman of British Aerospace is an arms dealer, and the Prime Minister is an arms dealer’.

It is also alleged that Said was the source of the reported multimillion-pound payment to Mark Thatcher, in order to gain access to Number 10.

Mark Thatcher has repeatedly denied the allegation that he received £12m in relation to the deal. The figure is derived from transcripts of conversations between Saudi princes and agents recorded by Saudi Intelligence while monitoring rival bids by the British, French and Americans for the deal. The transcripts were leaked by Mohammed Khiweli, the Saudi First Secretary to the United Nations, who defected in May 1994 and was granted asylum by the United States.

Howard Teicher, a Middle East expert on Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council in the 1980s, claimed: I read of Mark Thatcher’s involvement in this arms deal in dispatches from our embassy in Saudi Arabia, from intelligence reports that were gleaned in Saudi Arabia and Europe and in diplomatic dispatches from other European capitals. I considered these dispatches totally reliable, totally accurate . . . I did not think that people would loosely accuse the son of the Prime Minister of being involved in such a transaction unless they were certain it was the case, and the fact that I saw his name appear in a number of different sourced documents convinced me of the authenticity of at least the basic involvement on Mark Thatcher’s part. He was clearly playing some kind of role to help facilitate the completion of a transaction between the two governments. Teicher reaffirmed his view years later: ‘He was playing an active role in the arms transaction and it was unambiguous that he was involved in a business capacity.’

Teicher’s view was based on Khiweli’s transcripts, which confirmed that the Saudis paid Mark to utilize his ‘excellent connections with the government . . . regarding the military equipment’.

Thatcher’s closest associates confirmed his role: ‘I know for a fact that on one occasion Wafic rang Mark, who then arranged for him to fly by helicopter to Chequers to see Margaret,’ said Rodney Tyler, a friend of the Thatchers.

BAE executives at the time also confirmed Mark’s involvement and the alleged £12m commission he received. ‘Mark was useful to ensure his mother was onside’, according to a former BAE consultant and friend of Said.

A British MP was sent a document anonymously that claimed: ‘The additional financial benefits to Mark T. and his friend Wafiq Said [sic] and other middlemen, all non-tax paying residents of the UK and to the Conservative Party are absolutely enormous, according to the BAE executive.’ The authors of a book on Mark Thatcher claim that his mother was informed of Mark benefiting from the deal. Given that he was arranging meetings for her with Said and Prince Bandar, she could hardly be unaware of his involvement. And, according to Wafic Said’s former aviation director, Mark’s dealings with Said were ‘at Mrs. Thatcher’s insistence’. A former defense industry executive, Gerald James, alleges Mark also benefited from Al Yamamah-2. Mark’s benefiting from a deal in which his mother played a crucial role would come as no surprise to those who followed his career. His personal fortune has been estimated at £60m, and his mother’s assistance has not been unhelpful in its accumulation. Mark, who inherited his father’s baronetcy in 2003, pocketed payments in relation to a £300m contract to construct a university in Oman which his mother had clinched for a British construction company in 1981. When asked about it in Parliament, Margaret Thatcher denied any wrongdoing, claiming she was just ‘batting for Britain’.

The nadir of his career, however, came when he was arrested at his home in the up-market Cape Town suburb of Constantia on 25 August 2004 for his role in an attempted coup d’état in Equatorial Guinea. Thatcher was accused of providing funding and logistical support for the abortive coup planned by a British mercenary, Simon Mann, a close personal friend. After his mother’s intervention secured a plea bargain in terms of South Africa’s anti-mercenary laws, Thatcher pleaded guilty to negligence in investing in an aircraft ‘without taking proper investigations into what it would be used for’, claiming that he thought it would be used as an air ambulance in Africa. He received a fine of R3m ($450,000) and a four-year suspended sentence, and was deported. Simon Mann recently reaffirmed that Thatcher was deeply involved in the coup, providing $350,000 and ‘was not just an investor, he came completely on board and became a part of the management team’.

After the Al Yamamah deal was concluded, Mark Thatcher purchased a luxurious Belgravia flat through a Panamanian company, Formigol, which was registered to Wafic Said’s business address.

Said would often take Mark shooting or golfing on Prince Bandar’s Oxfordshire estate. Alex Sanson, a former managing director of BAE’s Dynamics Division during the Al Yamamah deal, who told the Observer that Said played a pivotal role in the transaction, commented that ‘He [Mark Thatcher] was very close to Wafic Said and Prince Bandar. A number of people were aware that he was involved. He is bad news. He was a user of people to make connections. That was his technique and with the image of his mother at the time it was a useful asset.’

Such were the benefits of Al Yamamah to Thatcher fils that some refer to the deal as ‘who’s ya mama’.

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