US CDC’s local chief gets bail because of SA’s bad prison hygiene

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US Centres for Disease Control boss Dr Alfred Bere has been granted R100,000 bail after saying he would “most likely” contract diseases in South Africa’s unhygienic prisons if not released.

The Times reports that Bere – in charge of preventing HIV and TB – was busted by the Hawks for allegedly being part of a scheme which defrauded the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union’s worker health programme of donor money worth R25m.

Bere‚ a US resident who was born in Zimbabwe‚ achieved his PhD in mucosal immunology from the University of Cape Town in 2010. He works as the branch head for prevention of HIV and TB for the US government’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report says according to the Hawks he was tasked with overseeing donated funds and allegedly used the funds for personal gain. “The funds were donated from the United States of America‚ meant to be redistributed to deserving non-profit organisations (NGOs) to fight the spread of diseases by providing health care services to key groups and individuals‚” said Western Cape Hawks spokesperson Captain Philani Nkwalase.

“It is further alleged that funds were injected to one deserving NGO‚ which was later coerced to take up another separate NGO as a subsidiary. The funds from the subsidiary was allegedly used for personal gain and further transferred to a personal account‚” he said.

The report says he was arrested on 24 August at the Beit Bridge border crossing after he and his wife tried to cross the border. But he claims he was on his way to visit his mother for a weekend in Zimbabwe. According to his affidavit‚ which was read out in the Cape Town Magistrates Court‚ he was told by the US embassy to “stay put” – this was after the Hawks investigators first called him on 22 August.

“At that time, I had no knowledge of what the purpose of the investigating officer’s call was‚ however‚ as he is part of the authorities‚ I felt duty bound to revert to him and I did so‚” he said. He said that he informed the embassy of the telephone call after he also spoke with his Johannesburg-based attorney.

He said that the embassy told him that the “South Africans should seek permission of the US embassy” if there was a need for them to “have my audience”. He said that the embassy told him at the time that the Hawks had not made such a request and he subsequently decided to take his trip to Zimbabwe.

But, the report says, his trip was ended before it started when the police nabbed him as he was about to cross into Zimbabwe and he said he was informed that a warrant for his arrest was circulated by the Hawks in Cape Town. He was transferred to Cape Town after making a brief court appearance in Musina.

The US embassy has hired Mathewson Gess Attorneys to do a watching brief of the case‚ and advocate Andre Johnston is quoted in the report as saying that the embassy had not yet taken any action against Bere because they have not yet seen the police docket with the evidence on the case.

While in court‚ Bere had a flip file with the words “US Justice Department” written on it.

Johnston said that the US authorities hired them because they’re “quite far away and don’t know procedurally what’s going on”. “I don’t think they properly understand the merits of the matter‚” he said. “Internal investigations need to take place‚ and those can only take place once the US government is in possession of the necessary information‚” added Johnston.

He said that the US Justice Department were requesting information on the case so that they could start internal investigations.

The report says that Bere’s arrest was the result of two search and seizure operations in October 2017 and in August this year‚ and the Hawks have said that more arrests could not be ruled out.

The case was postponed for a Regional Court date on 13 December.

The Times report

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