Apr 2, 2015

Evidence by a close friend of Hariri: Mr Ghaleb El-Chammaa

On 10, 11, and 12 February, and 3 March, Mr Ghaleb El-Chammaa, a very close friend and business associate of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, gave evidence. Mr El-Chamma testified, among others, about Hariri’s relationship with Syria and the Syrian Presidents throughout the 1990s, including meetings with President Bashar Al-Assad, and payments made by Hariri to Rustom Ghazaleh.

Hariri and Mr El-Chammaa were close friends and they came from the same neighbourhood. Mr El-Chamma accompanied Hariri on most of his trips outside Lebanon and on his way to important meetings, including Hariri’s visits to the Syrian president. Upon his return to Lebanon in 1990, Mr El-Chammaa became involved in setting up the group that provided charity work on behalf of Hariri. Mr El-Chammaa and Hariri shared the dream of ending the war and developing and rebuilding Lebanon.

 [screenshot of Mr El-Chammaa testifying on 11 February 2015]

Mr El-Chammaa tells the court that the adoption of Resolution 1559 led all Lebanese people, including Hariri, to believe it was time to implement the Taif agreement, including the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon. According to the witness, with the death of the Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad, the relationship of Hariri with Syria changed. The Syrian security organs became the Syrian representatives in Lebanon, with the highest security official in Lebanon being Rustom Ghazaleh. Mr El-Chamma gave evidence that Mr Ghazaleh reported directly to President Al-Assad.

Mr El-Chammaa testifies about the visits by Hariri to President Al-Assad in 2003 and 2004, and the communication exchanged between Hariri and the Syrian authorities. The witness extensively describes a meeting between President Bashar Al-Assad and Hariri, in the presence of three Syrian security officials: Rustom Ghazaleh, Ghazi Kanaan and Mohammed Khallouf.  According to Mr El-Chammaa these three officials were in charge of implementing the Syrian wishes in Lebanon. The meeting occurred in 2003 and is described as a turning point in terms of the relationship with Hariri. Hariri told his good friend Mr El-Chammaa that the tone of the meeting was harsh and that President Al-Assad said "that he was the one to decide who would be president of the Republic of Lebanon", and that "Hariri is behaving in a way that is contrary to Syria’s interests and that he is inciting the Lebanese people against the Syrian presence".  Hariri was a shareholder of An-Nahar newspaper, and President Al-Assad asked him to sell his shares. Hariri told Mr El-Chammaa that he was very upset with the presence of the security officials, and that the meeting was a direct threat to him, to prevent him from achieving his goal, namely seeking a candidate for the presidential elections in Lebanon. Hariri further told him on their way back to Beirut that he was humiliated and that the Syrians should not deal with him in such a way.  Mr El-Chammaa asked Hariri: "Why are you staying in Lebanon? Why don’t you leave Lebanon? And why don’t you leave this kind of unacceptable situation?" Hariri replied that he is not only afraid about what will happen to him, but also about what will happen to those who are close to him.

Mr El-Chammaa also tells the Court about a meeting between Hariri, Rustom Ghazaleh and Charles Ayoub. Charles Ayoub is the owner and editor of the newspaper Diyar, which is pro-Syrian. He had a good relationship with the Syrians and he was in contact with Hariri. The aim of the meeting was the idea to calm down the tension that was prevailing at that time; Hariri was determined to go ahead with his plan to run his own election and to have his own electoral list in all Lebanese Regions. Of course, Rustom Ghazaleh was not happy with this plan. According to polls and studies Hariri would have been able to secure the majority in the parliament, and this majority would enable him to form a cabinet that would serve Lebanon's national interests. This way the Syrians would lose many channels of interference or control over Lebanon and its territory. The Syrians demanded that Hariri would limit his electoral list to certain areas in Lebanon. However, Hariri made up his mind, and did not listen to their request. Hariri was fully determined that he would run his own elections. 

The witness also testifies about the pressure exerted by the Syrians on Hariri to support the extension of President Lahoud, the decreasing of Hariri’s hope in changing the position of Syria vis-à-vis Lebanon, Mr Hariri’s contacts with the opposition, and Mr Hariri’s meetings with foreign heads of states. According to the Prosecution, the relevance of this last item is background evidence showing “the Prime Minister’s emergence on the world stage as a figure of some importance”. The witness further discusses meetings of Mr Hariri with the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. Mr Hariri wanted to communicate with Hezbollah and engage them in his attempt to change Lebanon.

Further, Mr El-Chammaa describes his own visits to Syrian officials, including General Rustom Ghazaleh, to relay messages from Hariri. Mr El-Chammaa also arranged for payments from Hariri upon the request of Mr Ghazaleh. This included monthly payments to Mr Ghazaleh from 1993 until 2005 that went up to 67,000 USD as well as separate cash payments as high as 250,000 USD. This was done to "preserve the relationship with him". The witness also remembers that "Abou-Tareq, one day before the assassination, on the evening of that day, he told me that he gave to Rustom Ghazaleh this additional payment" - as Mr Ghazaleh claimed he had not yet received his monthly payment - and that Ghazaleh had said some very insulting and humiliating words to Abou-Tareq, which had scared him. Hariri was also very upset about this, and this was the last time the witness saw Hariri. This evidence seems to point to a link between Mr Ghazaleh and the attack on Hariri, although the exact implications remain unclear. During his cross-examination, Mr Khalil, defence counsel representing Mr Merhi, suggested that the Prosecution is trying to imply that Mr Ghazaleh knew about the assassination and therefore he cashed the amount of money for two months instead of one. The Defence questions this theory as Mr Ghazaleh certainly would have warned Hariri in view of losing his main source of income.

The Defence further questions the witness about his knowledge about the relationship between Hariri and Hezbollah, and the absence of Wissam El-Hassan, a security officer and the secretary of Hariri who regularly accompanied Hariri in his car, on the day of the terrorist attack. The witness does not remember most of the details asked for because of the amount of time that has passed since the events. The same goes for the details from his UNICCC statement of August 2006, about which he’s extensively questioned by the Defence, and which seems to contain quite some facts that are based on hearsay.

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