BEIRUT: The trial of the men accused in the 2005 attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is set for March 25, 2013, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon announced Thursday.
Pretrial judge Daniel Fransen issued an order setting March 25 as the tentative start date for the trial in absentia of the four members of Hezbollah indicted by the U.N.-backed court.
The order provides the prosecution and the defense with a concrete sense of when the trial will get under way as they continue to prepare their cases.
“The setting of a provisional date for trial by Judge Daniel Fransen is an important judicial step on the road to trial,” STL spokesman Marten Youssef said.
Fransen made that decision after consulting with members of the prosecution, defense and Trial Chamber, as well as the registrar and the president of the STL, David Baragwanath.
The date, however, is subject to change pending further developments, such as the possibility of the prosecutor filing a request to amend the indictment. In a summary released of a closed-door meeting held in June, the prosecutor indicated that he may request to file an amendment to the original indictment.
“This does not necessary mean that there would be a delay. The pretrial judge would have to review and confirm the amendment,” Youssef told The Daily Star.
In the same meeting, the defense argued they would not be ready for trial before autumn next year. They could challenge the start date but only if they present new reasons justifying a delay.
“It is subject to appeal but the pretrial judge has to decide to if there is merit for appeal, a new compelling reason that wasn’t presented before, and then it would go to the Appeals Chamber,” Youssef said.
The arrest of any of the accused, Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi or Assad Sabra, would also mean pushing back trial.
Public Prosecutor Saeed Mirza sends reports to the court on the 19th of each month detailing efforts to apprehend the men. In a video address to journalists during a workshop held by the STL earlier this week in Beirut, Baragwanath defended the work of Lebanese authorities, describing the reports as “always comprehensive and useful.”
The tentative start date, which falls one year into the court’s second three-year mandate, could also change based on the Trial Chamber’s ruling on pretrial motions challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction and on other preliminary motions.