/ 27 January 2012

Basson attempts to erase charges

The Health Professions Council of South Africa will decide today if it will proceed with its hearing into allegations of unprofessional and unethical conduct levelled against germ warfare expert Dr Wouter Basson.

Basson, the former head of the apartheid-era chemical and biological warfare programme, Project Coast, on Thursday applied to have the remaining four charges of misconduct against him dropped.

The Cape Town cardiologist, who was not present at a hearing in Pretoria on Thursday, initially faced six charges before the council dropped two in September 2011 on the grounds of a lack of evidence.

Basson was acquitted in the Pretoria High Court in April 2002 in a criminal case stemming from the same allegations, before the council brought charges of unethical conduct against him in 2007.

Basson’s legal counsel, headed by Advocate Jaap Cilliers, maintained there was insufficient evidence to prove he acted in a manner inconsistent with the Hippocratic Oath.

“The onus lies with the pro-forma prosecution to prove Dr Basson acted unethically and they have failed to do this adequately,” Cilliers told the hearing.

Their argument hinges on discounting the evidence given by ethics expert Steven Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. Cilliers maintains that Miles’s evidence is “inadequate” as he has no background regarding the context in which the supposed transgressions were committed.

Accordingly, Cilliers pushed for the evidence given in 2008 by a separate ethics expert, Professor Solomon Benatar. “It is argued that the evidence given by Benatar should be preferred to that of Professor Miles, as Benatar was in the South African military and knows the circumstances in which the alleged infringements took place,” he said.

Although Benatar’s testimony is seen as equally damning for Basson, Benatar buckled under cross-examination by Cilliers in 2008.

After testifying, Benatar conceded that he found it “increasingly difficult” to be involved in the process.

In reply lead prosecutor Salie Joubert argued there was substantial evidence from both Benatar and Miles to prove Basson acted in an unprofessional manner.

“It is clear Dr Basson used his advanced knowledge of medicine and physiology to work against humanity. All testimony points to facts where he was implicated in gross violations and thereby should not be discharged from this hearing,” Joubert said.

Moreover, Joubert contested that Basson had incriminated himself during testimony in his criminal trial. “He acted as a traitor towards his own soldiers. He admitted to providing cyanide suicide capsules to SANDF personnel, who passed it on to soldiers he had no medical or psychological background for,” Joubert said.

If Basson fails in his attempt to have the charges dropped, the council will continue to hear the case.