June 5, 2003

SOUTH AFRICA: 'Dr Death' Basson wins big in appeal court

South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal has dealt a fatal blow to attempts by its prosecuting authorities to put Apartheid-era chemical and biological warfare mastermind Wouter Basson on trial again on the charges on which he was controversially acquitted last year.

Five judges ruled on Tuesday, June 3, that the Supreme Court of Appeal could not consider a range of supposed questions of law the State had tried to place before it in an attempt to prosecute Basson again on the array of charges on which he was found not guilty in April last year. The court decided that the issues the State wanted to place before it were points of fact rather than law, and that the Appeal Court could, in terms of existing South African law, not deal with those matters.

Judges of Appeal Piet Streicher and Mohamed Navsa delivered this week's judgement, with three of their colleagues agreeing with them. The appeal was heard on May 12 and 13, which was about a year and a month after Basson's two-and-a-half-year-long trial ended in the Pretoria High Court with him being acquitted on all charges. These included counts of murder, conspiracy to murder, fraud, and dealing in and possession of drugs like ecstasy and Mandrax.

On one of the State's main complaints, that Judge Hartzenberg should have recused himself from the case when the prosecutors questioned his impartiality and accused him of favouring Basson, the Appeal Court likewise decided against the State, again ruling that this concerned a question of fact rather than law.

Based on the court’s ruling, Basson is now said to seek re-employment with the South African army what, given his longstanding involvement with the military, would make him one of the most senior and best paid generals of South Africa. (newspaper reports)

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