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Sunday, August 3, 2014

South Africa’s “Dr. Death” Again Evades Sentencing

Janet Phelan

Dr. Wouter Basson, whose work as head of the South African apartheid government’s biological and chemical warfare unit earned him the nickname “Dr. Death,” has again evaded sentencing. 

Basson was first arrested in 1997, following the dissolution of the apartheid government. His much publicized trial in Pretoria High Court in the years 1999-2002 produced outcries of judicial bias by his prosecutors. With 200 witnesses against him, who testified to his involvement in multiple assassinations as well as fraud and embezzlement during his tenure as head of Project Coast, Dr. Basson was the sole witness in his defense. He was acquitted of all sixty seven charges against him. The legal contortions executed by the Judge Hartzenberg—all resulting in Basson’s acquittal—eventuated in the State moving to have the judge recused. Hartzenberg, however, refused to step down from the case. 

Basson, who was a medical doctor as well as a member of the military, had been charged with giving poisoned food and drink to members of the South African Defense Forces and other operatives, with instructions to supply these to ANC members and other “enemies of the state.” A number of deaths reportedly occurred as a result of the poisonings. In addition, Basson was allegedly involved in providing operatives with poisoned clothing and underwear to be given to specific targets, as well as providing poisons for injection. He was also known to be developing a “blacks-only” biological weapon

Basson had been arrested with 1000 tablets of Ecstasy in his possession. The records of Project Coast and affiliated labs raise questions about whether he may have also been involved in drug dealing. He was also acquitted of these charges. 

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) took another tack and in 2006 began to investigate Basson. He was subsequently charged by the Council with “acting unprofessionally” in his capacity as the head of Project Coast. And this time, he was found guilty. 

This past December, the HPCSA passed down its decision concerning Basson. His sentencing was scheduled for February of 2014. The sentencing may include a fine or removal of his license to practice medicine. 

However, Basson’s attorney, Jaap Cilliers, did not show up in court on the sentencing date. And so Basson’s sentencing was rescheduled, this time for June, four months out. 

And once again, Cilliers failed to attend. According to the HSPCA, Basson’s attorney must be in attendance at his sentencing. And so Basson has continued to practice in Capetown, where he has a successful cardiology practice. 

Cilliers has been Basson’s attorney for a number of years, and successfully defended him against the aforementioned criminal charges in Pretoria High Court. Cilliers himself appears no stranger to biological warfare, and was reportedly rushed to a hospital in May of last year after he claimed he was surreptitiously injected outside a courtroom. Cilliers made public statements about the attack indicating he had filed a police report concerning the assault, statements which have been denied by Lt Col Dlamini of the South African Police, who could find no record of such a report

According to a source in South Africa, Basson’s matter in front of the Health Council may be dismissed if his attorney fails to show for three times in succession. While the public affairs representative for the Health Council, Charmaine Motloung, has denied that this is the case, her statements to this reporter appear to give some ambiguous wiggle room. 

In response to the query about the possibility of the case being dismissed due to the attorney’s absence, Charmaine Motloung wrote: 

There is no such provision in our law or in the HPCSA Act and Regulations. One can argue prejudice as regards the delay but if the delay was not unreasonable and could be explained like in the current circumstances, the court will not just dismiss the matter.
Dr. Basson’s sentencing has not yet been rescheduled and it appears that he may have bought himself several more months, through his attorney’s failure to show. Attorney Cilliers may indeed have hit upon a slam dunk strategy to keep his client in business. If this is so, we may expect to see more such attorney disregard for the administrative process in South Africa in future cases. 

Several attempts were made to reach Jaap Cilliers but he was unavailable for comment. Cilliers has been involved in a number of high profile cases, and was defense counsel in the “General’s case,” wherein former defence minister Magnus Malan and 20 military officers stood trial for murdering 13 people, among them children, in the KwaMakhutha township massacre of 1987. Cilliers also defended Jackie Selebi, a former national commissioner of the South African Police Service and former President of Interpol, who was found guilty of corruption in 2010. 

Janet C. Phelan, investigative journalist and human rights defender that has traveled pretty extensively over the Asian region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”, where this first appeared

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