'Dr Death' to face disciplinary action


By Zelda Venter

High Court Reporter

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) disciplinary hearing against Wouter Basson, known as "Dr Death", will go ahead after he on Monday lost his Pretoria High Court attempt to block the probe.

The cardiologist, who headed the former government's chemical and biological warfare programme in the 1980s, last week turned to the court to interdict the HPCSA from proceeding with its inquiry against him.

He is facing six charges of alleged misconduct stemming from the time he headed the warfare programme, dubbed Project Coast.

Basson maintained he was only doing his job while working for the South African Defence Force, and was adamant that he helped the country build up a defensive capability against a chemical onslaught by other countries.

But one complainant said Basson went beyond this, for example, "the material generated under the auspices of the project included cigarettes contaminated with anthrax and milk tainted with botulism".

Basson pleaded not guilty to the six charges against him.

The HPCSA charges it was unethical for a medical doctor to be involved in a chemical and biological warfare programme, without the association's approval.

The disciplinary hearing followed Basson's acquittal in 2002 on all criminal charges relating to Project Coast. Both the Appeal Court and the Constitutional Court have confirmed his acquittal.

Since the start of the disciplinary inquiry in 2002, only one witness has been called. This witness, "an expert" on medical ethics, Professor Solomon Benatar, conceded under cross-examination that in his opinion there was no wrongdoing on Basson's part.

The pro forma prosecution at the time asked for a postponement, as the witness had "embarrassed" them. They then found Professor Steven Miles of the University of Minnesota in the US. He has yet to testify, as the matter stood down for Basson to ask the court to halt the inquiry.

The inquiry was also postponed after Colonel Dr Ben Steyn, who took over the project from Basson, applied to the HPCSA for approval to go ahead with the programme.

Basson claimed irregularities as the HPCSA's CEO apparently advised that Steyn's application could not be entertained as it would scupper the case against Basson.

Basson also felt the council had already decided his guilt. He feared that it was prejudiced towards him.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann on Monday said Basson had to convince the court that the HPCSA was biased against him and that he had no prospect of a fair hearing. There was no such evidence before him.

Basson had maintained no wrongdoing and this might very well be accepted by the committee which might acquit him, the judge said.

"This will bring an end to the proceedings and nothing further can follow from this."

If Basson was found guilty of unprofessional conduct, he could appeal against the decision.

"His fear that he will not receive a fair trial is unmotivated and unjustified," the judge said.

The HPCSA said it would set a date as soon as possible for the hearing to continue. Its acting CEO, Marella O'Reilly, said they were elated by the court's finding.




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