Much of what Basson was working on is still secret. It is known that in 1981, when he was working as a personal physician to prime minister Pieter Willem Botha, the country's Surgeon General hired Basson to work for the 7th SAMHS Medical Battalion, the medical military unit of the South African Defence Force. His job was to collect information about other countries' chemical and biological warfare capabilities under the name Project Coast.
After his preliminary report, Basson became the head project officer and began to work on the country's chemical and biological weapons capability. He recruited about 200 researchers from around the world and received annual funds equivalent to $10 million.
Project Coast secretly researched chemical and biological warfare in violation of the international BTWC agreement. Basson created four front companies; Delta G Scientific Company; Roodeplaat Research Laboratories (RRL), Protechnik and Infadel, which in 1989 was split into two companies - D. John Truter Financial Consultants and Sefmed Information Services. The companies were used to officially distance the military from the project, to procure necessary chemicals and channel funds for the research. According to later investigation, Basson had a free rein to do what he wanted.
Delta G did most of the research, production and development of the chemical agents, while RRL developed chemical and biological pathogens and allegedly was involved with genetic engineering. Protechnik was a large nuclear, biological and chemical warfare plant developing defences against chemical weapons. Infadel dealt with those on a smaller scale and concentrated on financing and administration of other units and possibly channelling funds between military and research facilities. Many of the employees were not aware of what they were involved with.
In the 1980s Basson and the project were allegedly involved with attacks and assassinations against the members of anti-apartheid movements. African leaders in South Africa, Angola and Namibia also claimed that the more dangerous chemicals were used for crowd control in the country, although the government claimed otherwise and claimed that chemical weapons were used against South African troops. Basson provided the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB) with lethal chemicals to be used against prominent anti-apartheid activists.
Basson continued to travel all over world to gather information about chemical and biological warfare programs and set up other shell and paper companies as additional front companies, possibly for money laundering.
When F. W. de Klerk became president in 1990, he ordered the production of the chemicals to be stopped and the lethal agents destroyed. Basson concentrated on non-lethal chemical agents and chemicals the government had not banned. That included a large amount of ecstasy and Mandrax that were apparently exported or allegedly sold to the drug dealers in communities active in the anti-apartheid movement (see Basson brownies). Most of the stockpile disappeared afterwards. Scientists working on the project later stated that they believed it was to be used to create drug-laced tear gas.
In January 1992, Mozambique reported that a South African helicopter had attacked their soldiers by releasing an unknown lethal substance that led to four fatalities. Investigation by the United Nations, U.S. and the United Kingdom identified it as BZ nerve agent. USA and Britain began to pressure the South African government and in January 1993 Project Coast was decelerated. Basson was officially retired and hired to dismantle the project, and allegedly profited when some of the South African front companies were privatised. Later government investigation found that there were large amounts of chemicals and agents missing.
End of career in military research
In 1993 the Office of Serious Economic Offences (OSEO) began to investigate Basson's business dealings in a seven year forensic audit.
In 1995 the South African government hired Basson to work for Transnet, a transportation and infrastructure company and possibly for other more secretive jobs. The USA and UK governments suspected that during his visits to Libya between 1993-1995, Basson might have sold chemical and biological weapons secrets.
In 1995, the government of Nelson Mandela rehired Basson as an army surgeon, allegedly due to USA and UK pressure and possibly because the government wanted to keep eye on him.
In 1996, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began to investigate the SADF and determined that the army had probably used lethal toxins against ANC activists. Basson was connected to many of these attacks. In 1997, the CIA told the South African government that Basson intended to leave the country. When Basson was arrested in a sting operation in Pretoria, he had a large quantity of ecstasy pills and various documents with him.
TRC began to investigate Project Coast. Investigation led to suspicion that Basson had sold his secrets to governments of countries like Libya and Iraq. In 1997 they asked the help of the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NIZA). NIZA's investigation report was included in the Truth Commission Files.
At the same time, the Office for Serious Economic Offences, The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Gauteng Attorney-General's Special Investigation Team investigated Basson's affairs. Conflict of interest slowed down the Commission investigation but the TRC gained more information from OSEO.
Basson appeared before the Commission on July 31 1998 and gave evidence for 12 hours. Basson's lawyers constantly interrupted the questioning with legal technicalities. The Commission was, however, able to determine that Basson had been the primary decision maker in the Project Coast.
Basson's trial began on October 4 1999 in Pretoria. At the time, the South African media had dubbed him "Doctor Death". Basson faced 67 charges, including drug possession, drug trafficking, fraud and embezzlement of a total of R36,000,000, 229 murders and conspiracy to murder and theft. Basson refused to seek amnesty from the Truth Commission.
The prosecution presented 153 witnesses, but the case soon began to turn against them. On October 11, 1999 Judge Willie Hartzenberg dismissed 6 important charges, including four charges of murder and possible involvement in 200 deaths in Namibia, because he stated that the South African court could not prosecute crimes committed in other countries. Basson was also included in the Namibian amnesty of 1989. Hartzenberg then adjourned the trial for two weeks. After 18 months of trial, he reduced the number of charges to 46.
In July 2001 Basson began to present his own evidence, being the only witness in his own behalf, speaking for 40 days. He stated that he had learned about the weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein, that he had indeed had free rein in the project and that he had exchanged information with foreign governments. However, technically all that was legal. The defence argued that Basson should have immunity for anything that had happened in Namibia.
On April 22 2002 Judge Hartzenberg dismissed all the remaining charges against Basson and granted him amnesty. The trial had lasted 30 months. The state threatened to appeal the judgment due to legal inaccuracies, but the Supreme Court of Appeal refused to order a retrial in 2003.
After his release, Basson has continued to travel all over the world as a guest speaker, and has founded his own private medical practice. In June 2005, a group of Swiss investigators questioned him about illegal trade in weapons and nuclear material and asked the South African government to stop cooperating with them.
Later that year the Constitutional Court, South Africa's highest court, overturned the judgement of the Supreme Court of Appeal. It ruled that crimes allegedly committed outside the country could be prosecuted in South Africa. Since then the National Prosecuting Authority has not instituted proceedings against Basson for crimes against humanity.