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14 Mar 2001 00:00
OWN CORRESPONDENT, Pretoria | Wednesday
CHEMICAL warfare expert Dr Wouter Basson’s legal team will on Wednesday commence with a series of applications for his discharge on 61 charges ranging from murder to fraud and drug trafficking.
Basson’s trial is set to be one of South Africa’s most expensive, with just his defence - for which the South African National Defence Force is paying - costing the South African tax payer well over R5,5m.
More than 200 witnesses testified for the State against Basson, quite a few of them being brought to South Africa from overseas at the tax payer’s expense.
The presiding Judge and teams for the state and Defence also travelled to America to hear the evidence of an American lawyer and his wife, who used to be close friends of Basson and were able to shed more light on the fraud charges against Basson.
Basson, 50, was arrested in January 1997 in a police trap in Pretoria while allegedly selling the designer drug ecstasy to a shady commodities broker. The court heard that Basson at first ran away and seemed relieved when he realised that it was “merely” members of the narcotics bureau wanting to arrest him, instead of foreign spies out for his blood.
Other charges, including a charge of killing over 200 Swapo detainees with powerful muscle relaxants, which caused them to suffocate “while fully aware of what was happening”, were later added.
Soon after the trial started in October 1999 trial Judge Willie Hartzenberg squashed six of the 67 charges, including a conspiracy charge relating to the Swapo detainee murders, because the victims were murdered outside the borders of South Africa and Basson had in any event received amnesty from the Namibian government.
He pleaded not guilty to the remaining 61 charges, including 16 murder charges - most of them relating to the deaths of unknown detainees who were allegedly killed with muscle relaxants before their bodies were thrown into the ocean - and 27 fraud charges involving some R46m.
The trial was initially marked by a series of bomb threats, until Basson eventually called a press conference, stating that he was satisfied that he would have a fair trial.
State Prosecutor Anton Ackermann caused fireworks when just a few weeks into the trial he asked Judge Hartzenberg to withdraw, claiming that the Judge was “biased” and favoured Basson. This was soon after the Judge refused to allow the State to hand in portions of Basson’s bail proceedings as evidence.
Basson took part in interrogation February 28, 2001
Basson back in the dock January 31, 2001
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