Lebanon News

Detained generals allowed to meet, hold talks with lawyers

BEIRUT: Four Lebanese generals detained on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri held unmonitored talks with their lawyers on Saturday, ahead of Monday's decision on whether they should be released. Generals Raymond Azar, Ali Hajj, Mustapha Hamdan and Jamil al-Sayyed will also be allowed to meet their defense lawyers for two hours every day, in line with an order by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is tasked with prosecuting suspects in Hariri's February 2005 killing.

Lebanon's Justice Ministry sent a copy of the "Order on Conditions of Detention" to Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud on Saturday, his office said, adding that Baroud had referred the order to the Internal Security Forces for implementation. Antonio Cassesse, an Italian judge presiding over the Hariri tribunal, issued the order.

The generals have been detained at Lebanon's notorious Roumieh prison since 2005 at the recommendation of former UN investigator Detlev Mehlis. The men have never been officially charged but were brought into custody on suspicion of terrorism, murder and attempted murder - accusations that their lawyers insist are based on the false testimony of a witness later discredited by investigators.

Daniel Bellemare, chief prosecutor of the Hariri tribunal, is to recommend on Monday whether the generals should remain in custody or be released.

Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar said on Thursday that the Lebanese government had issued an arrest warrant for a key suspect in Hariri's assassination, despite not having received any official information regarding his alleged arrest in the United Arab Emirates.

Media reports last week quoted an unidentified Arab diplomat in Dubai as claiming Mohammad Zuhair Siddiq had been arrested in the emirate and that Syria had requested his extradition. Later reports claimed Siddiq was transferred to police in Abu Dhabi by their counterparts in Sharjah, and that police were considering whether to transfer him to the Syrian authorities if they made an extradition request.

Aside from the generals, Siddiq is the only other suspect in the investigation.

Purportedly a former Syrian intelligence agent, he was arrested in a Paris suburb in October 2005 under an international arrest warrant requested by a Lebanese prosecutor. He was put under house arrest after the French authorities refused a request to extradite him to Lebanon, but went missing in March 2008.

In 2006, Saddiq alleged Syrian President Bashar Assad and his then-Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud had ordered Hariri's murder, in which 22 others also died. The UN tribunal initially considered Saddiq a key witness in their investigation, but made him a suspect after his testimonies were discredited.

Meanwhile on Friday, Lebanon's Cabinet rejected a memorandum of understanding with the tribunal after it met with opposition from ministers of the March 8 coalition. A decision on the memorandum, which calls for organized relations between the Hariri tribunal and the Lebanese judiciary, had been delayed since February. In place of the memorandum, the Council granted Minister Najjar jurisdiction to coordinate with tribunal officials directly.





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