May 16, 2003

NAMIBIA: 'Dr Death Killings' probe still on

A police investigation into the deaths of up to about 200 Namibians claimed to have been killed with the help of South Africa's apartheid-era biological and chemical weapons mastermind, Dr Wouter Basson, is continuing, according to a senior Police Officer.

Over a year has passed since Basson was controversially acquitted on all charges related to alleged crimes committed while he was in charge of white-ruled South Africa's secret programme to develop biological and chemical weapons. Government said at the time that Namibia would not let the matter rest until justice had been done, and that it would consider a request for Basson to be extradited to Namibia to stand trial.

The charges Basson initially faced included counts in which it was alleged that between 1981 and 1988 he supplied muscle relaxants to fellow SA Defence Force members with the aim of killing some 200 Swapo prisoners in South African-run detention centres. The bodies of the victims, who had in effect suffocated to death because of the muscle relaxants, were thrown into the ocean from an aeroplane, it was claimed in evidence during Basson's trial.

Acting Prosecutor General John Walters said this week that his office, which will have to certify that there is evidence to support a case against Basson in Namibia before a request for extradition can be forwarded to South Africa, has still not received any Police docket from which to determine evidence against Basson.

The Police are investigating Basson's case, though, Police Commissioner Vilho Hifindaka said on enquiry. Hifindaka said while progress has been made with the investigation, which he is heading, he is not able to say when he expects to be able hand the docket on the probe to the Office of the Prosecutor General. "But the sooner the better," he said. Hifindaka declined to give further details. "We're making progress," he said. He said it might jeopardise his investigation if he gave more details at this stage. What Hifindaka did say, however, is that what is being investigated are the circumstances in which many Namibians are claimed to have been killed before Independence, who killed them and who helped to do that. The investigation is not focused only on Basson, he said.

In South Africa, steps to try to bring Basson to book for alleged crimes he was acquitted of in April last year are continuing. The South African Supreme Court of Appeal on Tuesday, April 13, reserved its judgement after hearing two days of arguments on legal points related to Judge Willie Hartzenberg's refusal to recuse himself from Basson's case at the prosecution's request during the early days of the almost three-year-long trial. The prosecution claimed the Judge had shown he was biased, had pre-judged the case and had no interest in the prosecution's evidence.

Prosecutor Anton Ackermann, SC, who represented the State, indicated to The Namibian from Bloemfontein that a ruling by Judge Hartzenberg at the start of Basson's trial - which had the effect that Basson could no longer be prosecuted for murders allegedly committed in Namibia - also formed part of the appeal hearing. That ruling meant that the prosecution against Basson on the alleged killing of the estimated 200 Swapo detainees could not continue.

One of the main prosecution witnesses, a former SA military lieutenant-colonel, Johan Theron, told the court that he murdered scores of Namibians with Basson's help. The Judge, who in his judgement described Theron as "repugnant", however did not accept his evidence as reliable. In May last year he also refused to indemnify Theron from future prosecution for his role in the alleged crimes.

Basson also remains covered by a blanket amnesty that South Africa's last Administrator General in Namibia, Louis Pienaar, in February 1990 extended to all people who had committed crimes in Namibia while exercising their duties as members of the SA military or Police.

While both former Prosecutor General Hans Heyman and Prime Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab, then still Minister of Foreign Affairs, brushed off this amnesty when Basson was acquitted, it nevertheless remains on the country's law books, together with an earlier version which extended the same sort of amnesty from prosecution to born Namibians set to return home in the run-up to the country's Independence in 1990. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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