STL Defense Faces Lebanese Government Hurdles

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Young and Mettraux sent letters to the Lebanese president, prime minister and justice minister respectively, asking them to hand over documents related to the agreement between the United Nations and Lebanon that saw the establishment of the STL. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Omar Nashabe

Published Saturday, September 29, 2012

On Friday, a public hearing was held at the request of the Pre-trial Judge for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in The Hague. But as the meeting progressed, it appeared it was solely devoted to hearing the complaints of the defense counsel, regarding the lack of cooperation and compliance by both the Lebanese government and the prosecution with their requests.

The defense team for the four alleged Hezbollah members accused of having a hand in the explosion than killed Hariri and 22 others faced several hurdles in the course of their work.

Although none of the four have been arrested, they are being defended by court-appointed lawyers. Mustafa Badreddine is being represented by Antoine Korkmaz and John Jones; Salim Ayyash by Eugene O'Sullivan and Emile Aoun; Hussein Oneissi by Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse and Yasser Hassan; and Assad Sabra by David Young and Guenael Mettraux.

For instance, the Lebanese authorities have failed to comply with requests submitted by Young and Mettraux to the Ministry of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Justice.

The defense team also accused the Office of the Prosecutor Norman Farrell of withholding some of the material he had relied upon to issue the indictment, preventing the defense lawyers from scrutinizing and challenging this evidence.

It seems as though the prosecutor is seeking to delay handing over these documents for as long as possible, after Pre-trial Judge Daniel Fransen set a provisional date for the trial in March 2003. This would deny the defense sufficient time to sift through the indictment material.

Since the launch of the international investigation into the assassination of Hariri in 2005, the successive Lebanese governments have thoroughly complied with the requests of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) and the STL’s Office of the Prosecutor. The cooperation continued even after the STL’s indictment was issued in 2011, including by ministers from outside the [pro-Hariri] March 14 coalition.

Now, while the eight lawyers are gearing up to respond to the charges made by Daniel Bellemare against the four defendants affiliated with Hezbollah, two ministries headed by ministers with close ties to the [pro-Hezbollah] March 8 coalition have refused to disclose crucial information that the defense team may need to establish the illegitimacy of the court and exonerate the four defendants.

In March 2012, Young and Mettraux sent letters to the Lebanese president, prime minister and justice minister respectively, asking them to hand over documents related to the agreement between the United Nations and Lebanon that saw the establishment of the STL (the agreement was endorsed by the UN Security Council Resolution 1757.) The lawyers also requested information from Lebanese officials about Assad Sabra, including any confirmations about whether he is still alive.

On March 12, the two defense lawyers asked Justice Minister Chakib Cortbawi to provide them with information about the negotiations held in Beirut between UN officials and officials at the Ministry of Justice over the drafting of Article I and II of the STL’s statute.

The ministry, however, did not comply, arguing that such requests must be forwarded to it through the defense office. Yet when the requests were sent through this office on March 22, then again on April 4 and 19 the ministry claimed in its response on April 25 that it did not have the information requested by the defense.

On June 7 and then on September 18, Young and Mettraux filed additional requests with the justice ministry for information regarding the UNIIIC. But to date, there has been no compliance with these requests. By contrast, the ministry had responded to requests by Detlev Mehlis, Serge Brammertz and Daniel Bellemare almost immediately, from 2006 until 2010.

On August 13 and then on September 18, Sabra’s defense lawyers asked the Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunications for information concerning telecommunications mobile operators MTC Touch and Alfa going back to the period between 2003 and 2005. While the ministry acknowledged receiving the requests on September 20, they have yet to comply and turn over the required information.

On Friday, the defense counsel criticized the prosecution for delays in handing over documents required for the preparation of their pleadings, in violation of the STL’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence.

They called on Pre-trial Judge Daniel Fransen to compel the prosecutors to provide the defense with all the indictment’s material without exception before November.

The documents, which the prosecution continues to withhold from the defense counsel, include reports by so-called experts called on by the prosecutors to confirm the authenticity of the telecommunication analysis, as well as other reports that the prosecutors intend to bring before the court. The defense team also asked to be informed of the identities of the witnesses used by the prosecution.

The prosecution team did not object to handing over the requested material during Friday’s hearing, and stressed that the defense has been so far given up to 76,000 pages of the supporting material used in the indictment. Nevertheless, the defense counsel will not rest until Judge Fransen issues an order in this regard to guarantee that the material will be turned in within the specified time limits.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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