Court rules health council can continue Basson probe

Former apartheid-era germ warfare expert Wouter Basson’s fear that an inquiry into his conduct by the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) would be biased was unjustified, the High Court in Pretoria ruled on Monday.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann dismissed Basson’s attempt to stop the inquiry, which he claimed was procedurally unfair and a “witch hunt”.

“No case has been made out of real or ascribed or suggested bias on the part of the disciplinary committee.”

Bertelsmann said even if Basson was found guilty he could still approach the court to overturn the findings.

The HPCSA is investigating Basson’s involvement in the so-called Project Coast, which he has argued is an “abusive process”.

The HPCSA in turn argued that Basson’s application was an “opportunistic attempt to buy time. Nothing more, nothing less”.

The HPCSA has, for the past 10 years, been investigating Basson, who headed Project Coast — the apartheid government’s biological and chemical weapons programme. The cardiologist was acquitted in 2002 on criminal charges.

Basson’s counsel, advocate Jaap Cilliers, who is also currently representing former police chief Jackie Selebi in his corruption case, earlier argued Basson had justifiable fears that the body was prejudiced against him.

No unfair prejudice
However, Bertelsmann ruled there was no suggestion of any unfair prejudice.

“It is clear he has made no case which would justify any intervention. The alleged fear that he would not receive a fair trial is unmotivated and unjustified,” he said.

Cilliers had also argued in court the HPCSA’s registrar and CEO advocate Boyce Mkhize had tried to influence the investigation to find Basson guilty of unethical behaviour.

Mkhize allegedly refused to hand over the minutes of an HPCSA meeting held in April 2008 to Basson’s defence team. He had apparently claimed it would either impede the council’s case in
finding Basson guilty, or threaten state security.

“After he was forced to hand the minutes over, it was clear that no right-thinking person would think that it could impede the case against Basson, or have any influence on state security.

“Either Mkhize lied or the minutes were rigged,” Cilliers said.

He argued that Mkhize had attempted to influence council members to find Basson guilty.

Bertelsmann ruled there was no evidence of this.

Basson was not at the ruling.

The HPCSA has meanwhile “applauded” the ruling to allow it to continue its inquiry into Basson’s alleged human rights violations.

“This decision not only recognises council’s legal mandate as a statutory body to protect the public by investigating unethical and/or unprofessional conduct,” HPCSA acting CEO and registrar Marella O’ Reilly said.

“We look forward to the continuation of the formal inquiry into this ethical matter where the setting of ethical boundaries for conduct by healthcare practitioners is investigated and evidence tested, as the outcome will be of critical interest to the South African and international publics,” O’Reilly said. – Sapa

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