BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s pretrial judge Friday set a new tentative start date early next year for the trial of the four Hezbollah members indicted in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
In a statement, the international court said the date – Jan. 13, 2014 – set by Daniel Fransen could change based on judicial developments.
“The next phase requires the pretrial judge to refer the case to the Trial Chamber judges, who set the final date for the trial,” the U.N.-backed tribunal said.
The slain premier’s son, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, delivered a televised address several hours after the announcement, but did not refer to the decision in his remarks.
Earlier this year the pretrial judge postponed the tentative trial date, which was originally set for March 25, after concluding that the parties were not ready for trial due to a number of reasons, among which was a lack of adequate time for disclosure of material to the defense.
The STL is investigating the Feb. 14, 2005, assassination of Hariri, who was killed in a massive car bomb explosion along with 21 others in the Lebanese capital.
In 2011, the court indicted four members of Hezbollah in absentia.
Hezbollah has refused to hand in the suspects, shrugging off the STL as an “illegitimate court,” and denying any involvement in the case.
Defense lawyers for the men accused of carrying out the assassination of Hariri said earlier this week they would not be ready for trial in early December, already raising the prospect that the start of proceedings could slip into next year.
They have said they need more time to analyze telecommunications evidence gathered by the prosecution, and complained about uncertainty over whether evidence related to several other political assassinations being handled by the STL would be used during the Hariri trial.