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Washington calls for transparency in Samaha case to avert violence
Former Lebanese Cabinet minister Michel Samaha. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Former Lebanese Cabinet minister Michel Samaha. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: The United States urged Lebanon Monday to ensure transparency in any action against former Minister Michel Samaha, as a military judge adjourned the ex-official’s interrogation over his alleged role in terror plots until next week.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she could not comment on the accusations against Samaha but reiterated concern over “the ethnic tensions inside Syria spilling over into Lebanon.”

“So we want to see Lebanese authorities work well together and work well with Lebanese defense forces to address any spillover,” Nuland said. “Obviously any court procedures should proceed in an open, transparent manner that respects international standards.”

Judicial sources told The Daily Star that Military Judge Riad Abu Ghida questioned Samaha for three hours Monday after he was taken from a military court prison to Abu Ghida’s office at 11 a.m. in the presence of his lawyers Youssef Finyanous and Malek Sayyed.

Following the session, which lasted until 2:20 p.m., Samaha was allowed to see his wife and three daughters at Abu Ghida’s office.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television quoted judicial sources as saying that Samaha withdrew his confession before the military judge Monday, claiming that he had given the statements under pressure. The station said Samaha had confessed to transferring explosives from Syria to Lebanon with the aim of using them to prevent opponents of the Syrian regime from smuggling militants and weapons through Lebanon’s northern border, rather than to carry out a plot to destabilize the country.

However, judicial sources told The Daily Star the Al-Manar reports were unfounded, adding that Samaha’s lawyers were behind such “rumors.”

Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Franjieh said Monday Samaha had confessed to attempting to target the Free Syrian Army and the routes to smuggle arms from Lebanon to Syria, adding that his confessions were manipulated by the Information Branch for political reasons. Finyanous is a Marada member and Franjieh’s personal lawyer.

Sayyed told reporters media “leaks in the past two days were very harmful to the course of the investigation.”

“We only agreed to attend the interrogation after a statement by Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi in which he vowed to seek an investigation into the media leaks,” he said.

Reports later in the day said Sayyed had filed a lawsuit against Internal Security Forces chief Brig. Gen. Ashraf Rifi and Information Branch head Col. Wissam Hasan, accusing them of leaking the probe’s minutes to the media.

Rifi praised the ISF’s Information Branch Monday for its role in uncovering the plot and congratulated Hasan for successfully steering the operation.

Rifi also commended the “secret agent who played a key role in helping the security forces uncover the plot,” referring to a man who was identified by security sources as Milad Kfouri.

Kfouri provided incriminating evidence against Samaha, saying Syrian President Bashar Assad had desired bomb attacks in the country, according to the sources.

Samaha’s reported confessions of his involvement in the terror plot sparked calls by some March 14 politicians for Lebanon to sever ties with the Assad regime.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Sunday that the results of the investigation would determine the stance taken in order to defend the country’s sovereignty.

Samaha, a former MP and two-time information minister, was charged Saturday by Lebanon’s Military Tribunal with plotting to assassinate political and religious figures in the country and planning terrorist attacks.

In an unprecedented move, Mamlouk and a Syrian military officer, who was identified as Brig. Gen. Adnan, were also included in the indictment.

Judge Sami Sader, the government’s deputy commissioner at the Military Tribunal, also charged the three men with “creating an armed group aimed at committing crimes against the people and undermining the state’s authority.”

He also accused the three men of planning to “incite sectarian fighting through preparations to carry out terrorist attacks with explosives” that Samaha transported into Lebanon and stored after taking possession of them from Mamlouk and Adnan.

Sader also charged the three men with “planning to kill religious and political figures and working with the intelligence of a foreign state [Syria] to carry out aggression against Lebanon.”

Former President Amin Gemayel urged the government Monday to convene to discuss Samaha’s case, describing the uncovered plot as a Syrian attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty and calling on the government to file a complaint against Damascus before the United Nations Security Council.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora also questioned why the Cabinet had not convened in light of Samaha’s arrest.

“The first thing the Cabinet should have done is to meet and say that there is an aggression against the Lebanese state,” Siniora told The Daily Star. “Where did this happen? In Lebanon or in Zimbabwe?”

“It is clear that this is an assault on Lebanon ... he [Samaha] was caught with his pants down,” the Sidon MP said. – With AFP

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 14, 2012, on page 1.
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