BEIRUT: A top adviser of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri alleged Thursday that Aounist ministers allied with Hezbollah had obstructed international investigations by withholding telecommunications data, in testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
But the defense lawyers of members of Hezbollah accused of complicity in the attack sought to discredit the testimony of MP Marwan Hamade, Hariri’s former economy minister, saying he was politically biased and believed in the guilt of the suspects without the benefit of a fair trial.
Antoine Korkmaz, the defense lawyer of Mustafa Badreddine, a senior Hezbollah operative accused of leading the assassination conspiracy, told Hamade that he was not a reliable witness.
Korkmaz showed excerpts of interviews conducted by Hamade, including one immediately after the start of trial in which he expressed disappointment that there were lawyers defending the “criminals” accused by the prosecution.
“This means you are not a neutral witness and you violated the presumption of innocence,” Korkmaz said. “Even if they were criminals you cannot blame defense lawyers for defending them.”
The defense lawyer also showed excerpts of a newspaper interview in which Hamade said the STL indictment showed Hezbollah’s complicity in Hariri’s assassination.
Hamade said the latter statement was of a political nature, and said he was emotional at the start of trial and responded as an individual who had been the target of an attack and knew personally others who were killed during the latest string of assassinations in Lebanon.
The tough cross-examination came on Hamade’s last day of testimony at the STL before his return to Beirut. The former Hariri ally’s testimony focused primarily on the breakdown of relations between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hariri ahead of the latter’s assassination, including alleged direct threats by Assad to Hariri, who was warned by allies to leave Lebanon for his personal safety.
Hamade said the tensions with Syria were reflected in relations with Hezbollah, but defense lawyers pushed back, saying Hariri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah were preparing to unveil a comprehensive Sunni-Shiite alliance in 2005.
Hamade’s testimony covers the political context in the run-up to Hariri’s killing, which prosecutors hope will reveal the political motive behind Hariri’s assassination.
Hamade said that former prosecutor and U.N. commissioner Daniel Bellemare was periodically blocked from accessing crucial telecommunications data by ministers Gebran Bassil, Charbel Nahas and Nicolas Sehnaoui, all part of Gen. Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and allies of Hezbollah.
Hamade said the lack of access to the telecoms data often occurred before security incidents in Lebanon and said was the cause of considerable controversy in the Cabinet.
“They stopped providing telecoms data to security agencies despite the objections of Mr. Daniel Bellemare which created a lot of controversy in the government, which we called the government of Hezbollah and which took over control of Lebanon in 2011 with the approval of Bashar Assad and leadership of Najib Mikati,” Hamade said.
But Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, the defense lawyer of Hussein Oneissi, another suspect linked to Hezbollah, implied the collection of such vast amounts of phone metadata violated the rights of Lebanese civilians. As telecommunications minister, Hamade had ordered phone companies to cooperate with the investigation.
Hamade said the access to telecoms data was necessary to “end impunity” and establish who was targeting Lebanese leaders.
Hamade’s testimony was the first in the second phase of the trial, which will focus on the political context and the reams of telecommunications data gathered by investigators.
The prosecution is relying on the data to show that the suspects took part in a conspiracy that involved the surveillance and ultimately the killing of Lebanon’s former premier.