BEIRUT: The government’s financial watchdog has approved a decree that will pay Lebanon’s contribution to the budget of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the court investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The signing of the decree by Judge Aouni Ramadan, head of the Audit Bureau, paves the way for Lebanon to fulfill the long-overdue debt to the court, which will begin the trial of four Hezbollah suspects accused of complicity in the attack next month.
The bureau confirmed Monday that the funding had been approved, but the STL had not yet received the payment as of Monday afternoon.
Lebanon owes $38 million to the Hague-based court for 2013, or 49 percent of its budget.
Lebanon has faced increasing diplomatic pressure in recent weeks to make the payments, including from the E.U.
The decree must now be sent by the finance minister to caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Sleiman for their signatures.
It must then be signed by the foreign and justice ministers. The Justice Ministry can then channel funds to the court.
The funding of the STL has often been the subject of controversy due to Hezbollah’s opposition to the court. Lebanon is also under financial pressure because of a spiraling refugee crisis and endemic security problems.
Court spokesman Marten Youssef told The Daily Star over the weekend that the tribunal was confident the financial contribution was only a matter of time, and that it also had the backing of the international community.
Meanwhile, the court appointed Mohammad Aouini, a Tunisian lawyer, as lead counsel for Hassan Merhi, the fifth Hezbollah member to be indicted.
Aouini has defended Georges Ruggiu, a radio presenter sentenced for incitement against the Tutsi population during the genocide in Rwanda.
Merhi is accused of coordinating the false claim of responsibility in the Hariri assassination and working with the leaders of the conspiracy.
“The defense team for Mr. Merhi must have adequate time and means, on the same terms as those accorded to the office of the prosecutor, in order to accomplish its mission to ensure the accused has a fair trial,” said head of the Defense office Francois Roux.
Once Aouini’s team is set up, he will be in a position to study the evidence against Merhi and conduct his investigations, the statement said.