Defense in Hariri Murder Cites Difficulties, Roux Calls for Respect of Merhi's Rights

The defense teams of two of the suspects accused of involvement in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination made their opening statements on Monday, the third day of trial held at the seat of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague.

They cited lack of evidence against the accused and stressed the difficulty of their role over lack of cooperation of the Lebanese authorities and lack of time.

The defense lawyer for Mustafa Badreddine, the alleged mastermind of Hariri's murder, is Antoine Korkmaz and the co-Counsel is John Jones.

Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse is representing Hassan Oneissi, whose co-Counsel is Yasser Hassan.

The four Hizbullah suspects - Badreddine, Oneissi, Salim Ayyash and Assad Sabra - have been indicted in the Feb. 2005 assassination of Hariri in a suicide truck bombing that killed him and 21 others on the Beirut seafront.

The suspects are being tried in absentia because they haven't been arrested.

The fifth to be indicted was Hassan Habib Merhi, who was indicted later than the other four suspects and is not officially a suspect in the trial that started Thursday but several accusations have been made against him.

His lawyers are attending the trial in observer status.

STL's Head of Defense Office Francois Roux asked the Trial Chamber to “put a stop to violations of the rights of Merhi.”

He said Merhi was accused on Thursday and Friday in the prosecutor’s opening statements with the four others without having his effective rights given to him in pre-trial proceedings and pre-trial conferences.

Prosecutors are relying on a web of timings and locations of mobile phone calls they say were made by the bombers as they tracked Hariri in the months, weeks, days and minutes before his assassination.

But Korkmaz said there was no evidence on the participation of Badreddine in the conspiracy.

He stressed that he would challenge the accusations against Badreddine in due time.

“If the accused were in court they would have had the opportunity to express themselves. The defense won't be able to do so in lieu of the accused,” he said.

Korkmaz accused the prosecutor of communicating its documents on the investigation late to the defense team.

"Contrary to what some individuals have implied, the defense wasn’t able to carry out an in-depth investigation," he said.

He said the prosecution has no actual image at the present time of the attack of the Mitsubishi van despite numerous cameras there.

There is also a lack of photos taken by satellite, which without any doubt they do exist, he said.

He added that there is no evidence the van shown in the video images is actually the booby-trapped vehicle.

After his opening statement, Courcelle-Labrousse said the current situation in Lebanon does not make it possible for the defense team to conduct investigations.

“It is illusory to state that the defense will be able to counter the claims of hundreds of experts who were based in the prosecution's evidence,” he said.

"We are faced with an overabundance of material that is being disclosed to us," he told the court.

"We are wondering whether the start of the trial is a battle of experts," he said, a reference to the prosecution's claims.

The lawyer said the prosecutors had presented no possible motive during their opening statement that took a day and a half.

Courcelle-Labrousse said: "There are inexplicable blanks in the prosecution's case."

Co-counsel Hassan reiterated claims of the difficulties of the defense team. "The defense had to deal for five months with redacted material ... It was impossible for us to read the telecom report."

“Are only the victims of the Feb. 2005 attack worthy of an international tribunal?” he asked mentioning several other assassinations that were carried out in Lebanon before Hariri's murder.

“The hypotheses of the prosecution disregarded completely the material fact and neglected it,” he said.

He added: “The indictment is like a tree whose leaves will fall in the autumn.”

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