STL Prosecutors: Trial in Absentia should be Last Resort, Not 1st Choice

Prosecutors at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon asked the court on Friday to summon Lebanese officials to The Hague to hear from them about their powers in the implementation of arrest warrants against four Hizbullah suspects in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri’s assassination.

During a hearing held at the STL headquarters, Prosecution trial lawyer Iain Morley told three judges and two alternate judges, that “there is an opportunity to assist Lebanese authorities to hearing from them as to what their powers are.”

“Your honors are invited to hear from them,” the lawyer said when he was inquired about a report by Lebanese General Prosecutor Saeed Mirza on the failure of Lebanese authorities to arrest the four Hizbullah members in accordance with an indictment and arrest warrants issued by the STL.

Mirza has said in his report that security forces had delivered arrest warrants to the last known addresses of Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra. But those efforts were deemed “not sufficient” by the STL president.

“It is not for the prosecution to speak on behalf of the Lebanese authorities on this issue,” Morley told the court.

Informed sources told Naharnet on Wednesday that STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare has hinted in a document he delivered to the tribunal about his intention to summon Lebanese officials and maybe party members to the court to question them on whether they are incapable of arresting the four suspects or they are refusing to do so.

Morley’s comments at the court seemed to be a confirmation of such intention.

The prosecution’s representative also asked judges on Friday for more time before starting with in absentia proceedings.

“If there are investigative steps, they should be given more time because we are dealing with four accused,” said Morley.

He noted that the four suspects are of different seniority within the group that perpetrated the attack. So, “it is possible that we would find one of them and somebody is going to get arrested.”

The STL sent arrest warrants for Ayyash, Badreddine, Oneissi and Sabra to Lebanese authorities on June 30, and Interpol issued a "red notice" in July, but so far Beirut has failed to arrest them.

“Just a little bit more time may have done the trick,” Morley told three judges and two alternate judges.

"A trial in absentia should be a last resort and not a first choice," Morley said.

He added that Lebanese authorities should explain to the court's judges "why there are no further reasonable steps which can be taken to locate and effect the arrests."

A five-month period is a very short timeframe to reach a definitive conclusion, Morley said.

He praised Lebanese authorities for "diligently and dutifully" trying to serve the arrest warrants, but he said that was "not the same thing necessarily as locating and arresting" the four Hizbullah members.

The tribunal said on Friday that the Trial Chamber will make a decision on in absentia trials in due course based on the oral submissions at the hearing, the written submissions that were filed by the Prosecution and Defense Office on November 2 and the filings from the Pre Trial judge.

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