BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s prosecutor voiced his support Wednesday for a defense request to push back the trial’s start date, a move that suggests the proceedings currently set for March 25 will be delayed.
Pretrial Judge Daniel Fransen heard from the prosecution and the defense in a hearing Wednesday to assess their preparations for trial. He then announced that he was not ready to make a decision on the request for a delay, but would do so swiftly.
Last week, defense attorneys representing the four members of Hezbollah accused in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri requested that Fransen change the start of the trial. The defense argued that the failure of the prosecution to disclose all necessary documents and the failure of the government of Lebanon to cooperate with their requests for information, among other factors, had left them without adequate time to prepare.
In his response, Prosecutor Norman Farrell acknowledged that the defense had presented fair reasons for asking to change the trial date.
“Of the eight factors cited in the Joint Defense Motion, the prosecution acknowledges that some of these factors would justify postponing the trial date under the present circumstances. These include the incomplete disclosure process to date, the volume of evidence disclosed, the scale of the case, and some technical, software and translation issues,” the prosecution’s filing said.
“The prosecution acknowledges that the extended period needed for prosecution disclosure has impacted on the defense’s ability to prepare, and that further time is therefore required.”
At the hearing, the prosecution said that it would complete disclosure of all documents by March 11 but, following the lead of the defense attorneys, did not suggest an alternative start date.
Though in agreement over postponing the trial, defense and prosecution attorneys faced off at the hearing over a number of factors that are slowing the work of the defense.
In particular, the defense voiced frustration over access to records of call data, evidence that is likely to be crucial to the prosecution’s attempt to prove their case against the defendants, who remain at large.
Though they have the raw call record data, the defense attorneys argued that it was essentially useless in its current form and would take a year to organize.
Access to a database of the call records that the prosecution developed was unsatisfactory, they said, asking for a change in policy that would allow them to work from the same data as the prosecution.
Much of the prosecution’s case rests on call records it says prove the accused took part in the attack that killed Hariri and 21 others.
Another point of contention at the hearing was folders of data disclosed by the prosecution that cannot be opened by the defense.
“If data can’t be opened and used, in the end it cannot be deemed that it have been genuine disclosure,” said attorney Antoine Korkmaz, who represents Mustafa Badreddine.
As of Jan. 22, the prosecution has given the defense some 469,000 pages in documents.