South Africa’s germ warfare doctor acquitted


South Africa’s germ warfare expert Mr Wouter Basson was acquitted today of charges that he was involved in plots using poisons and snake venom to kill black political activists during the apartheid era.

 Wouter Basson
Mr Wouter Basson listens as a judge recounts charges in Pretoria High Court today. Photograph: Reuters

State prosecutors said they would go to court on April 29th to seek leave to appeal the verdict.

Cardiologist Mr Basson (51) sat impassively as the judgment was read out at one of the country's biggest apartheid trials. He later hugged his mother and smiled at reporters, saying he would address the media tomorrow.

The state had laid 46 charges against Mr Basson, accusing him of making poisons used to kill or attempt to kill mostly black opponents of the apartheid government, misappropriating government funds to fund a lavish lifestyle and drug dealing.

Mr Basson had denied responsibility for political assassinations carried out by agents using his toxins and claims he was only following orders from senior government members.

The courtroom included prominent apartheid figures such as former Defence Minister Mr Magnus Malan and residents of a nearby township who had come to hear the outcome of a sensational trial that has lasted more than two years.

In 2001 Mr Basson was cleared of involvement in the attempted 1989 assassination of Mr Frank Chikane, a prominent anti-apartheid activist who is now a top aide to President Thabo Mbeki.

Mr Basson was suspended from his job as a cardiologist at a Pretoria military hospital before his trial started in 1999.