BEIRUT: Judges at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon discussed Thursday whether to join the case of a Hezbollah member accused of complicity in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri with the trial of four other suspects which will begin next week.
The defense for the four suspects argued joining the cases would require an adjournment of the trial, which is due to open on Jan. 16.
In the first hint that the defense is ready to reveal how it will challenge the prosecution’s case, lawyers for two Hezbollah suspects – Mustafa Badreddine and Hussein Oneissi – confirmed for the first time that they would deliver opening statements in the case.
Badreddine is accused of being the “overall controller” of the attack, while Oneissi is accused of helping orchestrate a false claim of responsibility for the bombing.
The opening statements are used to lay out the lawyers’ strategy in the trial, and the defense has so far been tight-lipped about its theories of who was behind the Feb 14, 2005, attack that killed Hariri.
The STL is tasked with prosecuting those behind the Valentine’s Day bombing that killed the former premier and 21 others and ushered in a series of political assassinations.
The hearing was intended as one of the final steps before the start of trial next week.
The court also discussed the process of presenting evidence before the chamber and the order of the prosecution’s witnesses, including logistical details such as providing in advance the evidence linked to a particular witness
The prosecution has asked that Hassan Merhi, who is accused of being one of the leaders of the assassination team as part of the “green network” of telephones that allegedly coordinated the Hariri attack, be included in the main trial.
Merhi is also accused of coordinating a false claim of responsibility intended to mislead investigators.
Lawyers on both sides argue that it does not make sense to try Merhi separately since he was allegedly involved in the same conspiracy to kill Hariri, and because evidence in both cases is intricately tied.
But if the two cases are joined, the trial would have to be adjourned after the opening statements to allow Merhi’s defense lawyers an opportunity to study the evidence related to their client.