News24

Wouter Basson home free

2005-10-19 16:10

Johannesburg - Chemical weapons expert Wouter Basson will not again face charges quashed by the Pretoria High Court, the national prosecuting authority (NPA) said on Wednesday.

"The national prosecuting authority... has concluded that a fresh prosecution of Dr Wouter Basson on the charges originally quashed by the Pretoria High Court is in law not permissible," spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi said in a statement.

He said the NPA thoroughly studied and considered the Constitutional Court's September judgment on the matter, as well as all the relevant legal principles "relating to the doctrine of double jeopardy".

Basson was prosecuted in the Pretoria High Court on charges including conspiracy to assassinate members of liberation movements, misappropriation of State funds and dealing in drugs.

Charges relating to conspiracies to murder people outside the country were quashed by the court on the basis that South African courts lacked jurisdiction to try such offences.

Basson was later discharged on other charges and ultimately acquitted of the rest.

The State was afterwards granted leave to appeal on limited and conditional grounds.

The Supreme Court of Appeals subsequently denied the State leave to appeal and the NPA then took the matter to the Constitutional Court.

"The appeal was based on three grounds, namely:

  • Bias on the part of the trial court

  • The exclusion of the bail record as evidence in the main trial; and

  • The quashing of the conspiracy charges."

    Bias

    The matter was argued in February.

    In September the Constitutional Court ruled that the State had failed to establish that the judge was, in fact, biased.

    On the second issue the Constitutional Court also found that the State had failed to prove that the judge's ruling was incorrect.

    In respect of both these grounds the appeal was dismissed.

    On the third ground the Constitutional Court found that both the Pretoria High Court and the Appeal Court were wrong in finding that a South African court did not have jurisdiction to try the conspiracy charges.

    "It set aside the order quashing the charges and indicated that the State could now, at its discretion, re-institute these charges, provided that it could overcome the obstacle of double jeopardy."

    Upon studying the matter, the NPA came to the conclusion that Basson had already been acquitted of the conspiracy charges.

    This happened because the NPA formulated a last charge during the original trial, incorporating all the individual conspiracies of which Basson had been accused.

    "... in essence therefore, count 63 was an exact duplication of the individual counts."

    Although the Pretoria High Court quashed the individual conspiracy counts, it allowed the State to lead evidence on the these charges as summarised in count 63 - the last charge.

    "In its final judgment on count 63, the trial court analysed the evidence presented by the State on these charges, found that the evidence failed to established the guilt of the accused and acquitted him.

    "The upshot of this is that Dr Basson has in fact already been acquitted on the quashed charges."