Lebanon News

STL hears of controversial crime scene clearing

File - A view of a sign on the exterior of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, The Netherlands, January 16, 2014.(REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos)

BEIRUT: A former police officer who documented the removal of the cars in Rafik Hariri’s convoy from the scene of the assassination testified Monday before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The removal of the vehicles has long been a controversial aspect of the crime scene investigation, eliciting charges of deliberate tampering to conceal evidence of the crime.

The court’s trial chamber was shown videos narrated by Tanios Gemayel, a former Internal Security Forces officer currently in the judicial police, who documented the transfer of Hariri’s convoy along with a BMW damaged in the attack on the Helou barracks near Downtown Beirut.

The video showed the husks of the cars, some of them obliterated in the explosion, being clumsily transported by forklifts from the crime scene late at night on Feb. 14, 2005, along with footage of a bulldozer entering the crime scene to aid in the transport of the vehicles.

The presence of the bulldozer and the removal of the cars from the crime scene were seen by many as deliberate sabotage and are likely to be brought up by defense lawyers in particular as evidence of tampering with the investigation.

Gemayel was also responsible for collecting evidence from the parents of Ahmad Abu Adass, a man who appeared in a claim of responsibility for the attack that the prosecution says was coerced.

The court also heard testimony from Khalil al-Arab, a relative of one of Hariri’s top bodyguards.

The trial chamber will hold a hearing Tuesday on the possibility of joining the case of a fifth suspect belonging to Hezbollah to the main case.

The STL is tasked with investigating the Valentine’s Day bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and that plunged Lebanon into turmoil. Five members of Hezbollah have been indicted in the case, four of whom are standing trial in absentia at the court’s headquarters near The Hague.

The fifth suspect, also a member of Hezbollah, is called Hassan Merhi and is accused of being one of the ring-leaders of the team that coordinated the assassination in addition to helping plan Abu Adass’ alleged false claim of responsibility for the attack.

If approved, the joining of the two cases could delay trial for months as Merhi’s defense lawyers prepare for the case. So far, they have attended court sessions with other members of the public to follow the trial’s proceedings.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 11, 2014, on page 4.




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