STL: Trial Won’t Start Before the End of 2013

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A Lebanese man trims his trees behind a portrait of Saad Hariri, son of slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in the southern coastal city of Sidon. (Photo: AFP - Mahmoud Zayat)

By: Legal Affairs Editor

Published Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The defense team for the accused in the STL told the pre-trial judge that they will not be ready to start the trial before the fall of 2013. In the meantime, the prosecution is getting ready to submit a request for the amendment of the indictment.

The team at the office of the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) charged with investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is putting the finishing touches on a request that will be submitted to the pre-trial judge before the end of this month (or next month) requesting the amendment of the indictment issued in June 2011 against four members of Hezbollah. The amendment is expected to add more defendants who have a close organizational relationship with the Lebanese party.

STL prosecutor Norman Farrell’s investigators - led by the British intelligence officer Michael Taylor - are focusing their investigations on activities related to Hezbollah’s security apparatus that appear to have be criminal but are in fact intelligence-related, aimed against Israeli breaches.

Interestingly, investigations by US intelligence agencies - part of which were revealed by the US Treasury - coincide and concur with investigations by the office of the STL prosecutor where there is an aim to accuse Hezbollah of involvement in money laundering, drug trafficking, diamond trade and other criminal activities.

In addition, the prosecutor will not take the name of Imad Mughniyeh, the assassinated Hezbollah military leader, off the amended indictment because linking him to the accused is deliberate and is not restricted to the family relationship that connects him to Mustafa Badreddine - one of the four accused men.

As for setting the trial date, the prosecutor’s representatives, Ian Morley and Gregory Townsend, said during a meeting held recently in The Hague that the prosecution will be ready to start the trial at the end of this year.

Defense lawyers, Eugene O’Sullivan, Emile Aoun, Antoine Korkmaz, Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, David Young and Guénaël Mettraux told Judge Daniel Francine that they will not be ready to present their arguments until they are done with their investigations to counter the prosecution’s investigations. They stressed that the investigations could not be finalized before the fall of 2013 due to the difficulties associated with their inability to communicate with the people they are defending.

STL spokesperson Martin Yousef yesterday mocked everyone who has criticized the tribunal, accusing parties he did not name of “impeding its work.” He said that he “wishes the trial would begin... in 2012,” pointing out that “the pre-trial judge is the only one who can decide on this matter.”

Yousef, who is currently visiting Lebanon, talked about measures to arrest those accused in the case. He pointed out that “on the 19th of every month, the [Lebanese] attorney general has to make a statement about the state of the accused, but Lebanon has an obligation to search for and arrest those wanted.”

When asked about Lebanon’s contribution towards funding the tribunal, which Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati had paid from outside the draft state budget, he said: “Prime Minister Mikati represents the government and as far as we are concerned this means that the funding came from the government.”

STL president David Baragwanath yesterday repeated what Yousef had said. He pointed out at a special seminar organized by the tribunal for a number of journalists entitled “Key Developments in the Tribunal at this Crucial Phase in its History” that “the important issues include the cooperation of the Lebanese attorney general, the issue of false witnesses and others. Every month, the attorney general sends a report about the arrest of the four accused, who will be tried in absentia.”

As for those who gave false testimonies to the International Commission of Inquiry, Baragwanath said “There has been no trial to date therefore there are no false witnesses and the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the issue.”

Farrell has asked the pre-trial judge to allow him to withhold documents from Major General Jamil al-Sayyed relating to his arbitrary imprisonment for four years. These documents include the names of people who gave false testimonies to the investigating authorities that the Lebanese judiciary used, based on the recommendation of the International Commission of Inquiry, to arrest a number of people including Sayyed.

These people languished in prison from 2005 till March 2009. And when they were released by Francine, the reasons behind their arrest were never provided and they were not given a chance to hold those responsible for their imprisonment accountable.

Sayyed, however, has been trying to prosecute them. When the STL failed to hold the false witnesses accountable under the pretext that the issue is outside its legal jurisdiction, Sayyed decided to pursue the matter before local courts as well as courts in Paris and Damascus. But the lawsuits can not proceed before these courts without the ability to look at the false testimonies, the names of those who made them and the circumstances of the investigation.

Francine issued a decision on 17 September 2010 requiring the handing over of these documents to Sayyed, but the former prosecutor Daniel Bellemare challenged the judge’s decision before the appeals chamber which returned the challenge on 10 November 2010 confirming the decision.

Nevertheless, Bellemare refused to hand over all the documents under the pretext that the information and the names included might endanger the witnesses. It appears that his successor Farrell decided to continue on the same path, a path that violates the principles of true justice by insisting on protecting the false witnesses from legal prosecution.

Farrell agreed to hand over some documents that Sayyed requested in return for not handing over other documents that include the names of the false witnesses and details about their testimonies and the circumstances that surrounded their communication with the investigators which indicate the involvement of security and judicial agencies, political figures and former and current officials in the case.

Sayyed’s response came in a brief addressed to Francine requesting strict implementation of his decision issued on 17 September 2010 and requesting that the prosecutor cease procrastinating, manipulating and evading his responsibilities.

Sayyed refused to have the names of the false witnesses in the documents redacted under the pretext of preserving their security, stressing that the prosecutor would have to justify the reason behind this redaction from a purely legal perspective and no other perspectives that have nothing to do with achieving justice.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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