STL defense demands adequate time to prepare for stalled trial

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A lawyer for a man accused of involvement in the 2005 Beirut bombing that killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri told the tribunal set up to investigate the assassination that they needed more prep time before the trial could resume.

The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon adjourned the trial on February 12, less than one month after it began, after the case of Hassan Merhi was merged with that of four other suspects indicted in the murder.

The court last week said the trial should resume by mid-May, but Merhi's defense counsel on Tuesday indicated that they would need much longer to prepare without specifying a time frame.

"We need the necessary time to examine and analyze the evidence calmly and independently," Mohammed Aouini, head of Merhi's defense counsel, told the court.

"The main problem for the defense is to allow the Merhi defense team to prepare in a fair and just manner. We have to be at same level of the prosecutor. How can we cross examine witnesses while we are not aware of the content of the prosecution's file in its entirety, and while we still don't have an investigator?"

"We have had a lot of difficulty in finding an expert in the field of telecommunications to be ready to look at the evidence, the analysis, the tests ... , How can we fully represent the interests of Mr. Merhi while we have been unable to determine his interests?"

Aouini urged the trial chamber not to "interfere" or put pressure on the defense during its preparation and called for the court to answer to their needs.

His remarks drew frequent rebukes from the head of the trial chamber, Judge David Re, who insisted that the court was acting in accordance to clearly drawn rules and proceedings.

When pressed for estimate of the time needed, Aouini said he was not asking for a year in prep time, but could not determine the time needed until they could thoroughly review the prosecution's "huge and very complicated" file, and appoint at least one telecommunications expert to investigate the claims and evidence presented by the prosecution.

The prosecution originally charged four suspects – Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra – each with two counts of terrorism, and three counts of homicides in 2011.

Merhi, was charged last year with the same crimes but the trial began before his case was merged with the that of the other four. All five are being tried in absentia.

The men are known to have affiliations with the powerful Hezbollah Movement, which has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack. It accuses the STL of being a US-Israeli project designed to discredit the group.

The February 14 explosion killed 22 people including Hariri and wounded 226.

(Al-Akhbar)

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