BEIRUT: The defense attorneys at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon are requesting to delay the trial of the men indicted in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, describing the current start date as “both unrealistic and unreasonable.”
In a motion filed to the court two months before the trial is set to begin on March 25, the attorneys said their request for more time is a result of the prosecution’s failure to disclose all relevant documents, as well as the volume and disorganization of the evidence that the defense has received.
“The prosecutor has served [the defense with] some 86,236 documents, 92 percent of which have been served since 13 November 2012,” the attorneys said in their motion. “The total volume of documentation served, according to the prosecutor, amounts to approximately 469,000 pages.”
The attorneys, who were appointed last February to represent Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra, also cited “continuing non-cooperation of the relevant Lebanese authorities ... and the absence of the accused.”
They argued that requests for information have been met with “no cooperation or assistance from Lebanon,” making it impossible for them to conduct their own investigations.
As the four members of Hezbollah indicted by the court remain at large – attorneys are not allowed any contact with them – the proceeding are expected to be held in absentia.
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has long denied the party’s involvement in the attack that killed Hariri and 21 others, vilifying the STL as an Israeli-American project designed to discredit Hezbollah and sow strife in Lebanese society.
The defense attorneys said that they were unable to propose an alternative date to begin the proceedings without knowing when the prosecution would hand over the remaining evidence, or when authorities would address the defense’s requests for cooperation:
“The right of each accused to have adequate time to prepare a defense is being breached and each accused will require considerably more time to prepare his defense once issues of disclosure, cooperation and technical problems are fully resolved.”
Last summer, the prosecution said it would be ready for trial at the end of 2012, while the defense attorneys said they would not be prepared until the end of 2013.
Pretrial Judge Daniel Fransen, who last summer set the tentative trial start date of March 25, will hold a public hearing Wednesday to assess the readiness of both sides.
Many analysts had anticipated that trial would be moved back, predicting the defense or the prosecution, whose case is set to include some 557 witnesses and over 13,000 exhibits, would seek additional time.
The move to push back the start date comes after the defense teams made repeated appeals to the prosecution to disclose all necessary information.
Many of the arguments made in the motion were previewed in the defense pretrial briefs filed earlier in the month, when some of the attorneys had argued that the prosecution’s pace in turning over documents had left the defense without sufficient time to prepare for the trial.