Mar 25, 2015

Another political witness: Mr Salem Diab, manager of the election campaign for Hariri

Salem Diab gave evidence on 22-23 January and 3 February 2015. He is a businessman and owner of a long-established company in Lebanon, the Abdul-Rahim Diab establishment. The witness met Hariri for the first time in 1979 in Riyadh, and they became friends. Every time Hariri was in Beirut, they would meet. In 1996 Hariri wanted to have on his list some persons from well-known families from Beirut, including Mr Diab, but Syria opposed his candidature. Instead Mr Diab became the manager for the election campaign of Hariri, first for all kind of elections and subsequently for the campaign for the prime minister. This was a very big machine, more than 3000 people were working for him. Further, Salem Diab was the president of the Beirut Welfare Association (Tanmiya) providing schooling and medical assistance, which was funded by Hariri.

[screenshot of Mr Diab during his testimony on 23 January 2015]

From 2004 onwards Salem Diab spoke with Hariri on a daily basis. The witness did not discuss with Hariri the relationship he had with the Syrians, but Hariri did not want pro-Syrian candidates on the list. Salem Diab heard afterwards about a meeting between Hariri and Assad in 2004, in which Assad told Hariri that he would break Lebanon over his head if Hariri did not accept his offer. Also, Mr El-Hassan and Bassel Fuleihan told the witness that during a meeting between Hariri and Assad, Mr Ghazaleh had a gun in his hand.

Further, the witness explains the chances of Hariri in the elections, the big role of politics in Lebanese society, and the allegations that Hariri was buying votes. The witness denies this, although Hariri used to distribute food to poor people, and he explains what happened when Hariri wanted to help because there was a shortage in olive oil, but this had nothing to do with the political campaign according to the witness.  Mr Diab continues his testimony with a description of the lunches that took place at the Quraitem Palace, with influential people coming over every week on Tuesdays and Fridays. However, the week before his death Hariri was nervous, although Hariri said that 'no one dares to get in any way nearer to me or closer to me'.

The Defence extensively cross-examines Mr Diab about the contradictions in his previous statements in 2005 and 2006, especially in relation to a person that returned to the crime scene after the explosion to remove the motorcade vehicles and/or jammers, an important issue for the Defence as this potentially shows that the crime scene had been altered. The judges also have follow up questions about this issue. Mr. Diab is also asked about several names on a list, which are however revealed from the public. Further, he is asked about his relationship with Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Al and Mr Mustafa Hamdan, a general and head of the Lebanese Presidential Guard Brigade, and a close aide of President Emile Lahoud. About the close relationship between Al-Ahbash and the Syrian security forces, Mr Diab states that this was ‘common knowledge’. Further, the Defence asks questions about the threats Mr Diab had to undergo.

The day after the testimony of Mr Diab, the Prosecution read summaries of witness statements into the evidence, all Tripoli citizens who had purchased SIM cards in early 2005. According to the Prosecution, the accused used the identities of these citizens to purchase cellphone SIM cards.  

The next political witness: Dr. El-Khoury

From 15th January onwards, the next political witness took the stand: Dr. Ghattas El-Khoury, a prestigious surgeon and former Member of Parliament in Lebanon. He was a close confidant and political ally of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. His testimony was extensive and spread over several days of examination-in-chief and cross-examination. During his testimony-in-chief, the witness covered six different topics:

[Screenshot of Dr. El-Khoury testifying in court.]

1. The position of various parties relating tot he extension of President Emile Lahoud in mid-August and beyond, after Hariri's visit to Damascus on 26 August 2004.

During the summer of 2004, Mr. El-Khoury stated he had been responsible for keeping an open dialogue with the Christian Maronite groups and other political parties with the aim of convincing those political opposition groups to elect a new president of the Republic and to respect the Lebanese Constitution. Several groups were in favour of changing the Constitution so as to allow Emile Lahoud a further extension of his presidency. This idea was supported by the Syrian-Lebanese apparatus, according to the witness. Former PM Hariri was reluctant to this idea, but changed his position after visiting President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. He testified that Hariri had said that the meeting had been "short and inappropriate". He had been made very clear that he had to accept the extension of Lahoud's mandate. Hariri had returned from Damascus being very upset and nervous. Hariri had no choice but to approve the extension of Lahoud and persuade other ministers to do the same.

2. El-Khoury's own position, which was not to support the extension, despite being an ally to Hariri.
The vote on the Constitution's amendment was scheduled for 3 September 2004. Dr. Khoury had decided to vote against the extension, in spite of other politicians' efforts to keep him from doing so. Around that time, the witness and his wife had been receiving threats. Hariri had accepted the witness's position on this, but realised that if more members of his bloc would vote against the extension, it could be suspected that he had given orders to that extent.

3. The discussions that El-Khoury had with Hariri about attending the Bristol gatherings organised by Walit Jumblatt.
Dr. Khoury indicated that after the extension of Lahoud's term, the only option available to form a government of their own choosing was to coordinate all political forces to achieve a strong opposition to Lahoud's group. El-Khoury himself and minister Walit Jumblatt were in charge of this. They hoped to achieve, inter alia, that the President would resign, to win the upcoming elections in May and to implement the Taif Agreement. This was the start of a new political chapter in Lebanon; a wide range of political opposition groups were united in a series of gatherings held at the Bristol Hotel, the so-called "Bristol gatherings". Although it was Hariri who coordinated those meetings, he himself did not attend due to political strategy and security concerns. After the extension, Hariri was asked to form a new cabinet, and it was impossible for him to openly support the opposition groups. Further, after his resignation in October 2004, Hariri preferred to be represented by Dr. Khoury and Bassel Fuleiham, in order to have a wider margin of manoeuvre.

4. The position of Hariri's views regarding the bloc in the upcoming elections in May of that year.
Dr. Khoury mentioned Hariri's reluctance to include pro-Syrian candidates in his electoral list, though he was told by Rustom Ghazaleh that he should include several pro-Syrian candidates in his list if he wanted to win the elections.

5. El-Khoury's activities on the day of the assassination.
On the day Mr. Hariri was assassinated, Dr. Khoury went to the hospital to visit his patients. Afterwards, he visited Parliament together with Mr. Fuleihan. He joined Mr. Hariri in a cafe facing the Parliament, and left the cafe to return to the hospital for an operation on one of his patients. Minutes later, he heard an explosion and described how wounded people started arriving at the hospital. Bodies arrived, including former Prime Minister Hariri's. Mr. Fuleihan arrived at the hospital, badly injured before ultimately passing away.

After giving his chief testimony, the witness Dr. Khoury was examined by the various defence teams. Defence counsel Mr. Iain Edwards questioned the witness about whether Syria's reputation would suffer from such an attack on Hariri. The witness responded that he was not in a position to assess Syrian relations vis-a-vis the international community, but added that in his view, Syria did not care about the international community. Other defence counsel suggested that other groups in Lebanon, political opposition groups, may have been interested in the disappearance of Mr. Hariri, but the witness responded that no one else was responsible for the assassination of Mr. Hariri.

With Dr. Khoury's testimony, the Prosecution continued leading political evidence pointing to Syria's involvement in the assassination of Mr. Hariri, departing from its earlier position where it took no position on any political or other motive for the assassination.