Wouter Basson was arrested by the Police Narcotics Division in January 1997, suspected of being involved in a deal to sell capsules of the street drug Ecstasy to an associate.
His bail application hearing followed ten months later. Applications were received from the office of the Attorney-General, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the South African National Defence Force, the National Intelligence Agency and the Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, for the bail hearing to be held in camera. These State bodies argued for the need to maintain State secrets and claimed that the revelations of the bail hearing might lead to proliferation. The presiding judge ruled in their favour. It was only two years later, in 1999, after a lengthy legal battle fought by the Freedom of Expression Institute and the press, that the bail application hearing on the drug charges was made public.878
Basson was indicted for the possession of 3,158 capsules and 38.6 grams of Ecstasy (charges 25 and 28), for dealing in methaqualone (charge 29), for the possession of cocaine (charge 30—the alternative to this charge was a charge of possession of 100,000 mandrax pills and 1, 200 kilograms of methaqualone). He was also indicted for the procurement of 500 grams of the Thymus peptide, Thymosin879 and 500 kilograms of methaqualone (2-Methyl-3-(2-methylphenyl)-4(3H)-quinazolinone) which, it was alleged, he had intended to purchase in Croatia in 1992 (charge 19). Basson stood indicted on charges of murder, attempted murder, and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. All the charges related to activities alleged to have taken place while he was at Project Coast.
Basson's trial started in the Pretoria High Court in October 1999 before Judge R. Hartzenberg, with intense interest from the press. Soon after the trial began, legal argument by Basson's defence team, and a ruling by the judge, led to 6 of the original 64 charges against Basson being dropped.