PARIS/BEIRUT: The Marshall Islands has withdrawn its nomination of former head of Lebanon’s General Security Jamil al-Sayyed as their representative to UNESCO, a well-placed diplomatic source told AFP Wednesday.
Sayyed spent four years in prison on suspicion of involvement in the 2005 murder of the former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. He denies any involvement and claims to have been subjected to arbitrary detention.
The Marshall Islands’ move to nominate him to UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural arm, was revealed by French daily Le Figaro, which noted that acquiring diplomatic immunity could enable Sayyed to avoid potential prosecution by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, an international U.N.-backed criminal court looking into Hariri’s murder.
Hariri was killed in a Beirut bomb attack which also claimed the lives of 22 others and left 226 people injured.
The attack was initially blamed on four Lebanese officers – including Sayyed – suspected of being close to Syria, but the Special Tribunal has since indicted four members of Hezbollah and begun to try them in their absence.
The source said both UNESCO and France, as the organization’s host country, had been informed that Sayyed would not be coming to Paris to represent the Marshalls.
Sayyed filed a lawsuit in Beirut Tuesday against Georges Malbrunot, the French journalist who wrote the Le Figaro article that sparked the controversy and led the Marshalls Islands to withdraw its nomination of the ex-intelligence chief.
Sayyed accused Malbrunot, a senior reporter at Le Figaro’s foreign desk, of lying. Sayyed said the Feb. 10 article contained “offensive and invective fabrications.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 13, 2014, on page 3.