South Africa’s “Dr Death,” Wouter Basson, who headed the apartheid regime’s germ warfare program, was found guilty on Wednesday of unprofessional conduct by the country’s health council.
The cardiologist, 63, now risks being barred from practicing medicine after the council ruled that he had flouted ethical rules after a six-year inquiry.
Basson faced charges over supplying suicide cyanide capsules to operational officers, tranquilizing substances for kidnappings, and for producing sedatives, ecstasy and tear gas.
“The breaches of medical ethics amount to unprofessional conduct,” said Jannie Hugo, chair of a Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) investigative committee on the matter.
Sentencing proceedings are due in February.
The charges stem from Basson’s time working for the white minority state’s chemical and biological warfare program in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Basson, who had pleaded not guilty to all charges, was not present when the verdict was announced.
The committee rubbished his argument that he had acted during a war, had been under military orders and had operated as a soldier and not a doctor.
He was held accountable to charges of producing “drugs and teargases on a major scale” and supplying mortars weaponized with teargas to Angola’s civil war guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi.
South Africa was supporting Savimbi’s UNITA against the communist MPLA-led government at the time.
Basson also was found guilty of providing “disorientation substances for over the border kidnapping” used to tranquilize abductees, and for making cyanide suicide capsules available to specialized units.
“He is evil. I agree with the committee when they say as a doctor Basson was there to serve people, not kill them,” Lizzy Sefulo, 72, the widow of an man killed during the apartheid era, told the SAPA news agency.
Sefulo said her husband and three other anti-apartheid activists were drugged and tortured in 1987, and their bodies blown up.
The council’s hearing against Basson started in 2007, with some charges dropped in 2011.
In October 1999, he also appeared in the Pretoria High Court facing 67 charges including murder, fraud and drug trafficking. The trial lasted two-and-a-half years and depicted Basson — nicknamed Dr Death by the national media — as the mastermind of a secretive chemical and biological weapons program dubbed Project Coast.
He allegedly oversaw plans to poison Namibian fighters with muscle relaxants, infect water with cholera and deliver a baboon fetus to intimidate archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu.
More than 200 witnesses testified on behalf of the state, but Basson called just one witness in his own defense: himself. He said everything he did was as a government employee for the state. He was acquitted of the charges in 2002, and today runs a profitable cardiology business in Cape Town.
He declined to seek amnesty from the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to probe political crimes committed during the apartheid era.
The South African Medical Association Trade Union welcomed Wednesday’s ruling.
“We see it as a clear message to all practicing medical practitioners never to be used by any state to participate in their wars,” it said in a statement.