Lebanon News

Ex-Hariri probe official cleared of bribery

This YouTube grab shows Investigator Gerhard Lehman. (The Daily Star/YouTube grab)

BEIRUT: A German Interior Ministry report has cleared a top U.N. investigator in the Hariri assassination from bribery allegations made by Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, a source familiar with the case told The Daily Star.

The 200-page internal report was the result of a two-year probe into Gerhard Lehmann, the chief of investigation at the UNIIIC, the body tasked with investigating the blast that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others. Lehmann was the deputy of Detlev Mehlis, the UNIIIC’s first commissioner.

During a televised address by Nasrallah in July 2011, Al-Manar aired a videotape of a man who appears to be Lehmann allegedly receiving and flipping through what the Hezbollah leader said were bank notes. Nasrallah delivered the address after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four members of Hezbollah in connection with the bombing.

The report’s outcome raises questions about other key allegations in Nasrallah’s speech, including that the STL’s first president, Antonio Cassese, was a supporter of Israel and that 97 computers belonging to the UNIIIC passed through Israel, implying that the investigation was manipulated by Lebanon’s arch-enemy.

Hezbollah accuses Israel of assassinating Hariri.

In the address, Nasrallah accused Lehmann of selling details and testimony from the investigation in exchange for cash.

Lehmann is now a senior police investigator at the German Federal Police Office in Wiesbaden, southwest Germany, after being recalled from a post in the Middle East following Nasrallah’s allegations.

The Interior Ministry investigation, launched in October 2011, “left no stone unturned in Lehmann’s professional and personal life,” the source familiar with the probe and who saw the report told The Daily Star.

The Daily Star did not independently verify the contents of the report.

The source said the report, which included testimony from criminal and language experts, found that the allegations were part of a “campaign” by Hezbollah to discredit Lehmann and, through him, the work of the STL and the UNIIIC.

The report concluded that there was no basis for the German police to take any criminal or disciplinary action against Lehmann, saying there was no “hint” of corruption in his past, according to the source.

Investigators conceded that the video shown by Nasrallah depicts an individual who could possibly be Lehmann, but they concluded that the footage does not show a transfer of money, and certainly not of thousands of dollars, the source said.

The investigation decided that Nasrallah’s allegations were not legally sufficient to create credible suspicion against Lehmann, and were considered “secondhand knowledge at best” but were more likely “unconfirmed rumors,” the source said.

The source said the report questioned why Nasrallah did not know the exact amount of the money allegedly given to Lehmann, why none of the details of partners who allegedly bought testimony from him have been made public, and why the date and location of the meeting where Lehmann allegedly received the money were not disclosed.

The report also noted that the video did not show Lehmann handing over any information to the person he met in the video, despite the claim that he was selling information on the investigation.

The German Interior Ministry also said in the report that Lehmann had never been an intelligence officer. Nasrallah said in his speech that he had worked on operations against groups opposed to Israel.

Nasrallah’s speech was a powerful condemnation of the court mere months after the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri collapsed when ministers allied with Hezbollah walked out of the Cabinet over disagreements linked to the tribunal.

At the time, Nasrallah, who accuses the STL of being a Zionist-American conspiracy to undermine the resistance, said Cassese was pro-Israel.

Nasrallah aired a video from the annual security conference in Herzilya where Cassese was described as a “great friend of Israel.” He also quoted from a letter by Cassese to the Israeli Supreme Court in 2006 that the Hezbollah leader said showed his bias, because he described some Palestinian resistance activities as terrorism and because he acknowledged that Israel was a democracy that occupied Arab land.

In addition, Nasrallah said that 97 computers belonging to the investigation had been transferred through Israel.

The U.N. officially denied at the time that the UNIIIC computers that passed through Israel had intact hard drives.

The head of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization office in Beirut, which received the computers after the investigation completed its work, said at the time that the original hard drives had been replaced with new ones before the computers entered Israel.

Sources defended Cassese against accusations that he was biased toward Israel.

They pointed out that Cassese had refused to attend the Herzilya conference or to sign a petition that expressed concerns about the U.N.-created fact-finding commission into Israel’s 2008-09 assault on Gaza headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone.

Israel had refused to cooperate with the commission, which found that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, but was also critical of Israel’s systematic deprivation of rights to the Palestinians in Gaza in the run-up to Operation Cast Lead.

Instead, Cassese wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times in October 2009 backing the Goldstone Report.

In his letter to the Israeli Supreme Court, Cassese criticized Israel’s policy of targeted killings and said it may amount to war crimes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 30, 2014, on page 1.




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