By Hassan Illeik
Yesterday’s events at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) did not include any legal confrontation between the prosecution and the defense teams. According to a defense official, the prosecution is quite aware that the trial will last for years, and with time, it will lose the media spotlight.
Hence, the prosecution opted to add a suspense factor to its evidence briefing. After the tedious presentation of trial counsel Graham Cameron on January 16, he described the telecommunications attributed by the prosecution to the five suspects, exactly as mentioned in the indictment few months ago, but with an interesting twist.
Practically, he didn’t come up with any new evidence. His theory was still based on “spatial concurrence” between a series of cell phones designated by international investigators as working within a “closed security circle,” which were connected to the movement of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s convoy and the movement of the Mitsubishi truck most likely used in the blast.
Cameron sparked some suspense when he intentionally elaborated on details regarding a man named Sami Issa, affirming that he is Mustafa Badreddin and describing him as “a ghost who disappeared since 1999 and had no photos taken for him ever since.” Cameron continued: “He owns a yacht registered under a fake name, a fancy Mercedes and an apartment in Beirut, both not registered under his name. He has no bank records and pays his children school tuition in cash, he also has more than one girlfriend at the time. He owns a jewelry shop in Mar Elias and another in Jounieh and spends a good amount of time in cafes and restaurants with his friends, moving around with bodyguards.”
It was not enough for the prosecution to throw in this “information,” they also had to give it a sectarian aspect. To avoid affiliating the suspects with Hezbollah, they shed light on the fact they all belong to one sect without mentioning their political background. Cameron threw in his sectarian accusations quietly.
Some March 14 supporters saw Cameron’s speech as a final, irrefutable judgment while others estimated it was “convincing but we should also wait to hear the defense.”
Even though the defense won’t speak until Monday, lawyers appointed by the defense bureau refused to cede to the prosecution and decided to launch a counterattack through a press conference. They were accompanied by a representative of the prosecution, vice president of the investigators team, Tunisian Mohamed Lajmi, who had been attending the trial from seats designated for the public.
Lajmi is the one who listened to the statement by Lebanese politicians (including Saad Hariri) in the recordings broadcasted by New TV, two years ago. He listened in to what the defense had to say, wrote down some notes and left smiling as usual.
Defense lawyers for Mustafa Badreddine and Hussein Oneissi, Antoine Korkomaz and Vincent Courcelle Labrousse expressed their “dismay” that the prosecution didn’t present any new evidence after nine years of investigations.
“It doesn’t matter if the prosecutor tells us that somebody called another. He has to reveal the content of the conversation, and this content doesn’t exist. Before that, he has to prove that the number belongs to this certain person. There is no tangible evidence proving a conspiracy,” Korkomaz said.
Labrousse said, “Until this day, I don’t know why the man whose interests I represent [Oneissi] has participated in the crime,” adding, “the prosecutor has to present obvious evidence and not invite judges to imagine the content of telecommunications because trials cannot be based on theories.”
Yasser Hassan, who is also defending Oneissi, stressed that the defense teams are not the suspects’ defense lawyers, meaning that they don’t represent the suspects but were assigned to preserve their rights.
According to Hassan, “One should look to the historical course of events leading to the Hariri assassination which aimed to change the system in Lebanon,” adding, “the prosecutor has to tell us who has such an interest.”
Al-Akhbar can reveal that on January 13, the trial chamber judge directed the Lebanese government to comply with the defense demands within the period of one month, threatening to refer the issue the UN Security Council, in virtue of the tribunal status and its agreements with the Lebanese government.
Interestingly, the defense team doesn’t enjoy the same political and media coverage by March 14 forces as does the prosecution. These forces usually cause a stir whenever the prosecution reveals that one of its demands was delayed by Lebanese authorities, even for few days.
The courts’ sessions were adjourned until Monday, when “preliminary interventions” will be presented by the defense. However, these lawyers worry that the prosecutor will keep launching new indictments, which would delay the trial.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.