Double blow for Basson inquiry

DEFENSIVE: Wouter Basson
DEFENSIVE: Wouter Basson

THE inquiry into the conduct of former head of apartheid's biological and chemical warfare programme, Wouter Basson, has suffered a huge setback, which might see the inquiry dragging until next year.

This after retired judge and legal assessor Freek Ellof was hospitalised with pneumonia at the weekend.

Former surgeon-general Lieutenant-General Daniel Knobel, who was expected to conclude his testimony, was also not available because he had undergone open-heart surgery.

The Health Professions Council of SA's professional conduct committee chairman, Jannie Hugo, yesterday postponed the matter to December 6.

But the committee and both legal teams are due to meet next month to decide on the way forward. Should Ellof be unable to continue, they would seek a new assessor, and the case might only be heard next March.

Knobel, who had already began his testimony, was called to testify for Basson.

He told the committee that in the 1980s South Africa was on the brink of a civil war and Basson was approached by the chief of the defence force and surgeon-general for the development of a defence chemical and biological capability.

He also said Basson was remarkably able to penetrate laboratories around the world and sourced vital information for SA.

Knobel succeeded the late lieutenant-general Nicolaas Nieuwoudt as surgeon-general in 1988 and Basson served under him, before being put on early pension in 1993. Knobel retired in 1997.

Basson is charged with four counts of misconduct relating to the establishment of a secret chemical warfare research laboratory, known as Delta G, for the South African Defence Force, at which incapacitating drugs and teargas were manufactured on a large scale. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He faces being struck from the roll of medical practitioners if found guilty.

Basson has admitted to providing tranquillisers for cross-border kidnappings between 1983 and 1988 but denied acting illegally.

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