Lebanon News

Lead investigator taken off Hariri case

BEIRUT: The Lebanese judiciary relieved Judge Elias Eid on Thursday of his responsibilities as investigating magistrate in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri Hariri.

"Beirut's Cassation Court, headed by Magistrate Ralph Riachi, issued a decision on Monday to have Eid replaced," a judicial report said. 

The name of Eid's replacement was not immediately made public.

Mohammad Mattar, a lawyer who represents the heirs of four Hariri bodyguards who died in the February 14, 2005, bombing, had filed a request last month for Eid to be replaced. Article 360 of the Penal Code stipulates that it is up to the justice minister to appoint a new investigating magistrate in the case, provided that the Higher Judicial Council approves the minister's decision.

"The judiciary has taken the right decision, and we are particularly glad that the Court of Cassation has found the arguments we presented convincing," Matar told The Daily Star during a telephone interview.

Mattar cited what he called Eid's "intention" to release former security officials Raymond Azar and Jamil Sayyed before the conclusion of the investigation. He also cited Eid's "overly friendly relations" with the lawyers and families of the four officers charged with involve-ment in the assassination: Sayyed, Azar, Ali al-Hajj and Mustafa Hamdan.

"The decision will certainly put an end to all campaigns aiming at proving us wrong," he added. 

The attorney for Sayyed, meanwhile, said the judiciary's decision was "the ultimate evidence that the four former security chiefs are innocent."

"It's like you are playing a game of tennis and you are about to win, when your opponent, who is losing, shoots the umpire dead," Akram Azoury told The Daily Star. "They do not want to pronounce the four officers innocent, so they sack the only person capable of exonerating them."

Azoury held the United Nations responsible for the "unjust" detainment of the ex-security chiefs: "First they took into consideration the testimonies of fabricated witnesses, and now they are allowing a judicial vacuum to prevail."

He also argued that the detention of the former generals was no longer "a judicial decision but rather a political one," adding that the aim of the Court of Cassation's decision "is to have the case transferred to the international tribunal."

In a report to the Security Council late Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said  he hoped to appoint judges to the international court by the end of the year.   

Ban did not give a date for when the tribunal would begin to function but outlined how judges, prosecutors and other officials would be selected.

The tribunal, Ban said, would begin its work when a special UN commission investigating the murders had made substantial progress and financing was obtained. Some $35 million is needed for the first year alone.

The judges will be appointed by the UN from a list of 12 nominated by the Lebanese government. Lebanon submitted such a list, which will remain sealed until the selection process begins, on July 17.

Ban said a panel of experts would "interview the candidates during the autumn and I hope to appoint the judges by the end of 2007." - With Reuters





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