STL Defense Emerges Confused and Divided from First Two Days of Trial
The Hague - Naharnet Exclusive
Defense counsel for the accused in the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri emerged confused and divided from the first two days of the trial at the headquarters of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague.
Three days before the Defense's intervention that is scheduled for Monday, in which it is expected to respond to the Prosecution's presentation, a number of Defense lawyers invited reporters in The Hague to a press conference that was held after Friday's session.
The surprise was that Mustafa Badreddine's lawyer Antoine Korkmaz admitted the presence of conflicting viewpoints among the Defense teams regarding the strategy that must be followed to respond to the Prosecution's claims.
While Korkmaz as well as Salim Ayyash's lawyer Emile Aoun and Hussein Oneissi's lawyers Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse and Yasser Hassan decided to hold the press conference, they acknowledged that the Defense counsel for the other two accused – Assad Sabra and Hassan Merhi – did not share their point of view on holding the conference and that they prefer to say what they have during Monday's session and inside the courtroom.
Observers also noticed that STL Defense Council head Francois Roux did not attend the press conference.
Korkmaz started the news conference by saying that he was ready, together with his colleagues, to answer the reporters' questions -- although the Defense lawyers were the ones who invited the journalists to the conference via an email distributed by the court's press office and therefore they should have had something to say.
The main points that were addressed by the Defense counsel can be summarized as follows:
1. They tacitly acknowledged the difficulty of refuting the Prosecution's allegations regarding the monitoring of Hariri's movements, with Korkmaz saying: “Let's suppose that the surveillance did happen, is surveillance equivalent to assassination?”
2. Korkmaz raised the issue of Prosecutor Norman Farrell's remarks to Le Monde in which he announced that investigations are still ongoing. Badreddine's lawyer voiced regret that the Prosecutor is launching accusations before the end of the investigation, although the STL's Rules of Procedure and Evidence are based on the Anglo-Saxon legal mechanism, which allows the Prosecutor during all the stages of the trial to submit a new indictment or amend any previous indictments he might have presented. That would happen according to the progress of investigations, which do not stop with the issuance of the first indictment.
This approach is usually endorsed with the aim of speeding up the trials, given that it would be inappropriate to postpone the trial of a certain suspect whose accusation's elements are complete pending the conclusion of investigations into the cases of other suspects.
3. Korkmaz pointed out that the Prosecution offered “nothing new” in its presentation that was based on the telecom data evidence, demanding records of the phone conversations' content that prove the criminal nature of these phone calls.
For his part, lawyer Yasser Hassan noted that the telecom data evidence is a circumstantial, non-material evidence that is being used for the first time ever in the Arab world, disregarding the fact that several judicial verdicts that have been issued in Lebanon were based on this very type of evidence, and that the STL endorses the laws followed in Lebanese courts.
4. Korkmaz wondered how would Hizbullah benefit from assassinating Hariri, noting that the former premier was inclined to engage in an electoral alliance with the party in the 2005 parliamentary vote.
But March 14 politicians who accompanied former premier Saad Hariri to The Hague commented on this point, saying “Hizbullah's interest in murdering ex-PM Rafik Hariri was proved by the developments that followed the crime, when the party sought to strike and weaken al-Mustaqbal Movement and paralyze Fouad Saniora's government, as well as to prevent the election of a president from the March 14 forces and prevent the March 14 camp from governing the country although it won the 2005 and 2009 elections.”
They also mentioned “the toppling of Saad Hariri's government and forcing him to stay outside Lebanon.”
“If this is the Defense's approach and strategy in defending the accused in the assassination of ex-PM Hariri … the Prosecution will not have to make a major effort to convince the judges of its case,” the March 14 politicians added.