BEIRUT: Defense attorneys for the four members of Hezbollah indicted in the attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said they would not be ready to go to trial until late next year, according to a summary of a closed-door meeting held last month. The defense “emphasized that they would not be ready before autumn 2013” due to difficulties related to their investigation and evidence, and because “the nature of the proceedings in absentia trial does not allow them to receive the instructions from the defendants,” said the summary released by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
The prosecutor said he could be ready to start the trial at the end of 2012.
The original discussion was held during a closed-door status conference on June 12 between pretrial judge Daniel Fransen and members of the prosecution and defense.
According to court rules, Fransen will ultimately set a tentative date at least four months ahead of the start of the trial, taking into consideration the progress of the defense and prosecution.
During the status talks, held regularly to take stock of both sides’ progress, the prosecution also “provided information on the subject of an eventual amendment of the indictment.”
There was no indication whether the amendment would name additional figures in the attack of February 2005 or add further charges in the indictment of Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra.
Any amendment to the indictment would have to be approved by Fransen and would likely mean pushing back the start of the trial. Fransen rejected a request by former Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare to amend the indictment to include a count of criminal association earlier this year.
Since the February decision to move to a trial in absentia, the prosecution has disclosed thousands of documents to the defense counsel for the accused, who are conducting their own investigation and have hired a telecommunications expert, according to the court’s summary.
The defense teams have also filed a number of pretrial motions, including one rejected Wednesday by the Appeals Chamber that had asked the court to reconsider its ruling last year defining terrorism for the first time in international law. The Trial Chamber has also dismissed a defense motion requesting the court to revisit the in absentia decision, while a ruling on motions challenging the court’s legality and jurisdiction has not yet been issued.