Lebanon News

Hariri paid Syrian officials to ‘buy’ Lebanon back: STL witness

File - The Judges Walid Akoum, Janet Nosworthy, David Re, Micheline Braidy and Nicola Lettier (LtoR) in the courtroom of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, The Netherlands, January 16 , 2014. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos

BEIRUT: Rafik Hariri felt that he had to “buy” Lebanon back from Syrian officials and their allies who levied influence in the country prior to his assassination, his friend and adviser Ghaleb al-Shamaa testified at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Tuesday.

“He would tell me we were buying the country from those ‘bastards,’” Shamaa told U.N.-backed investigators in 2006, one year after the former prime minister was killed. Excerpts of Shamaa’s 2006 testimony were read aloud in court Tuesday as the defense continued to cross-examine him.

“He would say that he knew that the price of the country was very high, but that he was willing to pay the price for the sake of the country,” the 2006 testimony stated.

Last month, Shamaa told the court that he had been personally responsible for overseeing monthly payments Hariri made to Rustom Ghazaleh, Syria’s chief intelligence officer in Lebanon at the time. Hariri likely paid other pro-Syrian politicians and public figures, Shamaa testified, but he did not know precise details or figures. “They really used him and abused him knowing that this was the way he thought,” Shamaa told investigators in 2006.

Shamaa was taciturn and at times even indignant during the cross-examination by defense counsel Jad Khalil Tuesday. Appearing before the court via video link, Shamaa showed offense when Khalil suggested that he had avoided riding in Hariri’s motorcade the day of the assassination.

“You are asking a question to a person who would have preferred to become a martyr with the late PM,” Shamaa responded. “I do not think you have the right to ask me such a question and that’s why I will not give you an answer.”

Khalil, who represents the interests of Hezbollah member Hassan Merhi, questioned Shamaa at length regarding evidence he gave to U.N. investigators in 2006 about possible roadworks near the Saint Georges Hotel prior to Hariri’s assassination. The defense has suggested that an underground bomb could have been responsible for the explosion which killed Hariri and 21 others, while expert witnesses for the prosecution have insisted that an above-ground bomb was responsible.

Khalil showed the court a picture of Hariri gifting Ghazi Kannan, then the head of Syria’s security apparatus in Lebanon, a key to Beirut and suggested that the former premier had pandered to Syrian officials in order to secure his own political fortunes.

“Sometimes an individual would smile in the face of his torturers ... That did not mean that Mr. Hariri was happy and comfortable with the Syrian attitude and behavior toward him,” Shamaa said. “He was trying to do what was best for the country.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 04, 2015, on page 3.

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