'Aids Researchers Were on Our Payroll'. (Special Report: South Africa)

Article excerpt

"...The bulk of Aids research in South Africa in 1988 was done through the Medical Research Council, where some of the researchers 'were on our clandestine payroll'," says Wouter Basson, the chemical and biological warfare expert.

Once a powerful man but now standing in the dock all alone, and under intense cross-examination by the prosecution, Dr Wouter Basson admitted that in 1988 some Aids researchers in South Africa were on our clandestine payroll".

He was answering questions about the abortive laundering of $250m which was to have come from the intelligence service of East Germany.

Basson told the Pretoria High Court that the South African Reserve Bank was quite willing to become involved in the money laundering. The money, he said, was to have been supplied in cash by "the East German intelligence service" or "stolen from the East German intelligence service".

The plan, in the end, never materialised. But if it had, the money would have been invested in South Africa for five years before being returned to his East German principals.

Basson claimed he and the former SADF chief of staff finance, Admiral Bert Bekker, went to the South African Reserve Bank where he was made to accept that the scheme -- codenamed the "Contresida Deal" -- had been approved by a senior delegation of the Reserve Bank.

"I don't know who they were. I was just the small chicken in the corner," he told the court, stressing that the South African government knew it was a "pure money-laundering scheme".

In order to disguise the true nature of the scheme, Basson said his Swiss collaborator, Dr David Chu, created an elaborate "smoke and mirrots" cover story linking the money to Aids research done on behalf of an international Aids development organisation, OPALS, which had the former French first lady, Danielle Mitterrand, as its patron.

Responding to a statement by state prosecutor Anton Ackermann that it was highly unlikely that "East German communists" would have brought $250m into South Africa for five years, and would have used Basson to do it, Basson said:

"I convinced Madame Mitterrand to approve of the project. She was involved in the cover story. It gave me great pleasure. I think the French intelligence service was angrier with her than with me. She did not know it was a cover story.

He said the SADF front company, Delta G, and researcher Graham Gibson started doing separate Aids research for the SADF a few years later.

Basson said Aids research was an ideal cover story because it was very topical in 1988. At that stage, he said, the bulk of Aids research in South Africa was done through the Medical Research Council, where some of the researchers "were on our clandestine payroll".

Gibson himself had earlier told the court that his research involved taking blood samples from thousands of soldiers, not only from the SADF but also from other defence forces in Africa, to determine the rate of HIV infection.

Testifying about the 1993 destruction of hundreds of kilograms of drugs, including cocaine, Mandrax and Ecstasy, manufactured or bought by the SADF for "possible use in crowd control", Basson said it was not only South Africa that used those hallucinogenic drugs as weapons.

He said although most countries deny using such drugs as weapons, he had proof that America used it in the Gulf War in 1990. He told the court that he studied TV footage from the Gulf War showing elite Iraqi troops simply surrendering en masse to the American and Allied Forces - drooling, their pupils enlarged and with no expression whatsoever.

"Analysis of the video material showing surrendering troops emerging from their underground bunkers show that they had dilated pupils, were drooling and had vacant stares. It appeared like the clinical profile of a BZ variant," Basson said.

"The variant was also tested in laboratory animals in South Africa but it was stopped because it caused permanent damage to the subject. …