Basson fights charges

24 January 2012 - 02:14
Dr Wouter Basson. File photo
Image: Sydney Seshibedi Dr Wouter Basson. File photo

The former head of apartheid's chemical and biological warfare programme, Dr Wouter Basson, is expected to apply to have all charges of misconduct against him dropped by the Health Professions Council when the hearing resumes on Thursday.

Basson initially faced a total of six charges relating to his activities as head of the covert chemical and biological warfare programme, code named Project Coast.

In a dramatic turn of events last year, the council dropped some of the charges, including one relating to using troops and police task force members as guinea pigs for sedatives such as Mandrax and ecstasy, as well as incapacitating drugs and tear gas in the 1980s.

The other charge pulled from the Cape Town cardiologist's charge sheet related to his taking the job of leading the SA Defence Force's secret chemical and biological warfare research programme, funded through front companies set up to channel money from the defence force.

The prosecution, led by advocate Salie Joubert, cited lack of evidence to support the charges that Basson tested drugs on members of the defence force and police because there were no known victims.

The charge of accepting the job to head the programme was pulled because it was merely background but the prosecution was of the view that it stands a good chance of securing a conviction on the remaining four charges, which could lead to Basson being struck from the roll of medical practitioners.

The council's spokesman, Lize Nel, said the prosecution had closed its case and would not be calling any more witnesses.

"The professional conduct committee will be hearing arguments for a discharge as Dr Basson will bring the application before the committee," she said.

Nel said Basson's legal team, led by advocate Jaap Cilliers, SC, had made it clear when the hearing adjourned in September that "they intended lodging an application for the withdrawal of all the remaining charges when the hearing resumes".

The remaining charges of unethical conduct against Basson relate to the establishment for the defence force of a secret chemical warfare research laboratory known as Delta G. Incapacitating drugs and tear gas were manufactured, as well as the filling with tear gas of thousands of 120mm mortar shells that were sent to Jonas Savimbi, leader of Unita, which the apartheid government supported in the Angolan civil war.

Basson is also accused of providing tranquillisers to the defence force for cross-border kidnappings, and with providing covert operatives with cyanide capsules.

According to the transcripts of Basson's criminal trial, the operatives were to use the capsules to commit suicide if they were in danger of being captured.

Despite Basson's acquittal in the epic criminal trial in the Pretoria High Court in April 2002, the council brought charges of unethical conduct against him in 2007.

The following year Basson approached the Pretoria High Court to block the hearing against him, saying the council was biased and would go to any lengths to find him guilty of unprofessional conduct. But this attempt was futile.