Jul 16, 2015

Witnesses about the Mitsubishi Canter allegedly used to carry the bomb

In the first weeks of June (4-5, 10, 15-17 June) the Prosecution called a number of witnesses that gave evidence about the Mitsubishi Canter. These witness all received protective measures, and nicknames were used in court to address these witnesses. PRH063 is the first witness and is referred to as ‘the salesman’. PRH075 is named ‘the owner’ of the Mitsubishi Canter, PRH459 is ‘the office manager’ and witness PRH041 is ‘the labourer’ who worked at the premises of ‘the salesman’.

PRH063: ‘The salesman’
Witness PRH063 is a businessman based in the Tripoli area of Lebanon. The business premises of the witness were used to sell vehicles. He allowed other people to sell their vehicles at his premises. They would then pay a commission or a fee connected to a successfully completed sale. The witness recalls that he normally would have pickup trucks belonging to others or himself in his car yard. The majority was imported from the Emirates, mainly from Sharjah and Dubai. ‘The labourer’ worked alongside him. The ‘brother of the owner’ also had a business premises very close to the witness.

The Mitsubishi Canter was owned and imported by PRH075. The witness doesn’t remember the details, but in general terms this truck weighs 2 tons and is a right-hand-drive. He does recall the persons that bought the Mitsubishi Canter. ‘The labourer’ dealt with these two men at first. At one moment they came to the witness and asked him the price. He told them that the car would cost $11.500, upon which the buyers asked for a decrease. The witness called ‘the owner’, who told the witness that he could reduce the price by $250. They eventually agreed on the price: $11.250. They immediately wanted to sign all papers. The owner arrived with the papers, talked with the two persons and the sale was done; the payment was made in cash. This is normal in this type of business, the witness said that 95% of the clients pay in cash. The owner asked the witness to write a receipt and handed it over to the buyers. The buyers didn’t sign a receipt or contract. The witness wrote the following on the receipt: “Received from Mohammed El-Masri”, although they didn’t ask for identification. There was also some confusion about the names the buyers of the Mitsubishi Canter had given. First they said Mohammed Masri and Khaled Masri. The witness wrote El-Masri down and the two persons explained this was wrong. The right family name would be Nasri, but there was no need to change the receipt as they paid in cash. A telephone number appears on the receipt, given to the witness by one of the buyers. It was normal practice of the witness and ‘the owner’ not to register any sale information.

The witness describes the two men as being around 30 years old and speaking ‘the usual dialect’ (referring to someone from the Koura area in Lebanon). There was a big difference in length: one of them was approximately 175 centimeters, the other 15 centimeters shorter. The tall man was not fat, the shorter one was ‘plumpy’. They wore ordinary clothes, and left after 30-45 minutes in the car they had bought. The witness didn’t see them since then. The sale occurred on 25 January 2005; the witness deduced this from his receipt book and discussions with the other witnesses who will give evidence about the Misubishi canter, and will also confirm this date.

PRH075: ‘The owner’
PRH075 is the man who purchased the Mitsubishi Canter in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as part of a group of perhaps five or six vehicles that were brought overland on the back of a lorry and were delivered to premises in Lebanon. Ultimately, these vehicles were placed in the showroom area run by ‘the salesman’.

The witness testifies that during the period of 2004-2005 he imported vehicles to Lebanon, mainly from the UAE. The witness was a partner of ‘the salesman’, and the witness would put some of his vehicles in his showroom. As to the Mitsubishi Canter the witness does not remember the travel details. The Prosecution shows the witness the invoice for the shipment of the vehicles from the UAE to Lebanon, including the chassis number, the type and model of the pickup and the other vehicles bought. The invoice is dated 6 December 2004 . The Mitsubishi Canter truck was bought by the witness, and shipped from the UAE to Lebanon.

The Prosecution also introduces an export certificate from Sharjah issued by the UAE Ministry of Interior, Sharjah Police, Traffic and Licensing Division. The invoice is registered in the name of the brother of the owner. The chassis number that appears on both documents is FE52CE5606019 and refers to the Mitsubishi Canter truck. The engine number on the document (4D33J01926) is the same number that appears on the fragment of engine block recovered from the scene of the explosion by the witness Mr Kuitert (click here to read our blog about his testimony). These numbers are probably written by the clearing office in Lebanon. A third exhibit is headed “settlement processes to acquit customs bonds”, listing the five vehicles with 19 December 2004 as an entry date for Tripoli. The witness also gives a description of the Mitsubishi Canter.

At the day of the sale ‘the salesman’ called the witness on his mobile phone and told him that there was a customer for the vehicle. At that moment the witness was at the shop/garage from his brother. The witness thinks he contacted ‘the office manager’ and told him to give the paperwork for this specific car. When the witness arrived at the salesman’s premises he met with the potential buyers. There were in total five persons at the showroom: the two buyers, himself, the salesman and the laborer. He gave the paperwork to the salesman and eventually he counted the money and asked the salesman to prepare an invoice. The buyers paid $11.250 in cash. In total the witness spent 20-25 minutes at the premises of the salesman. He stated that he left before the purchasers. The witness also gives a description of the two buyers, although the Prosecution clarifies that it does not have any evidence that one of the accused bought the car.

PRH041: ‘The laborer’
The Prosecution gave a summary of the statement of PRH041, which is tendered into evidence. This witness was working in the showroom of ‘the salesman’. His duties ranged from cleaning and parking the cars, jump-starting dead batteries, and other odd jobs as required. PRH041 does not recall the day the Mitsubishi Canter was delivered to the showroom. However, he described the standard procedure whereby new vehicles are cleaned, polished and prepared for display in a workshop owned by witness PRH075 (‘the owner’).

‘The salesman’ told the witness that the vehicle belonged to ‘the owner’. The witness gives a description of the Mitsubishi Canter. To his recollection the vehicle was in a very good condition. However, there were no other buyers specifically interested in the Mitsubishi truck before it was purchased. On the day of the sale the witness was inside the office when ‘the salesman’ was with the two buyers. ‘The salesman’ asked the witness to bring him the vehicle keys; the witness opened the doors of the vehicle and handed the keys over to ‘the salesman’. He also recalls pulling forward the cabin which hinges so they could see the engine. The witness only saw the purchasers for a few seconds. The purchasers immediately bought the vehicle and drove off together in the direction of Beirut.

PRH459: ‘The office manager’
Witness PRH459 was the person in charge at the company owned by the owner’s brother. He began to work for him in 1999. The business had two branches. The brother of the owner assigned the witness to do all the business transactions for the one branch - and a few transactions for the other branch - relating to buying, selling, writing receipts and bills and handing over documents. The company dealt in Japanese-made vehicles, such as pickups, buses, and bulldozers, and second-hand parts for these vehicles. In terms of record-keeping, the business registered the new vehicles that were imported and then struck-out the name of each sold vehicle without recording its price or the name of the buyer. Such papers were destroyed when the business was done with them.

In December 2004, the brother of the owner imported five trucks to Lebanon of which three belonged to the owner (PRH075), including a white Mitsubishi canter vehicle. The canter was displayed and sold at the car lot of ‘the salesman’. The witness and ‘the salesman’ found among the witness’ documents a receipt book with an undated stub numbered 2746 showing that the Mitsubishi Canter was sold by the owner for $11.250 to Mohammed and Khaled El-Masri. The witness recalled ‘the owner’ coming to see him on a day around noontime and asking for the papers of the Mitsubishi Canter in the witness’s files. The owner told the witness that he had reached an agreement with a client who wanted to buy the vehicle at the car lot of the salesman. After receiving the papers, ‘the owner’ left on foot towards the car lot of ‘the salesman’.

The witness wrote a note that a white Mitsubishi Canter with a slim cabin owned by witness PRH075 was sold for 10.500 dirhams on a diary desk block note to issue the relevant invoice and to debit it to the account of the brother of the owner. The witness informed the brother of the owner of the matter and he approved it. He incorrectly issued an invoice for the Canter in the name of another person because the witness had forgotten how the pickup was sold and the person named in the invoice was a regular client.

This completes witness evidence about the sale of the Mitsubishi Canter that was used in the bomb attack. The next evidence to be heard will be from a number of employees of Al-Jazeera, the news agency that was contacted with the false claim of responsibility.

Jul 13, 2015

Evidence by police officers part of Hariri’s convoy: The corporal and the soldier

On 2, 3 and 4 June two officers of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), both members of the team that was protecting the convoy of Rafik Hariri were called to the stand, testifying under protective measures. Other members of this convoy, who were previously heard by the Tribunal, were all civilian employees/personal bodyguards of Hariri (click here for a summary of their previous testimony).

The first witness, witness PRH357, was a corporal in the ISF; he will be called the ‘corporal’ when other witnesses are referring to him in court. The witness worked in the advance team, which had as a purpose the protection of the convoy of Hariri and to prevent any vehicles from getting closer to the convoy. The witness was inside the convoy and he accompanied Hariri in Lebanon and on one or two occasions to Syria. They used ISF vehicles and Mercedes vehicles; the majority of Hariri’s guards were in Mercedes vehicles. Two weeks before the assassination, Hariri bought a Land Cruiser; the ISF had taken all ISF cars that were given to him, as Hariri had stopped acting as prime minister. At the same time, the explosive experts and all other personnel or military staff securing his protection were taken away, and only eight ISF members remained for his protection. The witness was one of these eight ISF members, which were personally chosen by Hariri. Hariri used to drive his own vehicle, and normally four ISF members were with him in the convoy. The directions that the witness received were coming from the ‘adjutant’, another witness (PRH009) before the STL, who used to receive his information from Hajj Talal, Mohammed Diab or Abu Tareq al Arab.

During the days and weeks before 14 February, Hariri was not at ease as there were threats against him, and they were very careful and afraid. About 15 days before the assassination, Rustom Ghazaleh had visited the Quraitem with a huge convoy and in an unusual fashion, and they threatened Hariri. The Syrian security officers “came down very fiercely, as if they were coming to kill or kidnap Prime Minister Hariri.” The witness heard one of the bodyguards telling that Rustom Ghazaleh had told Hariri “if you make a mistake, we will kidnap your daughter’’. A few weeks before the assassination, the witness made a trip with Hariri to visit the President of Syria.

On 14 February 2005, after Hariri had visited the parliament building, the convoy took the Fosh street, they reached the military base and they drove towards the north; they were told by Hajj Talal to take the Maritime road, and Hajj Talal was very angry and said "Keep your weapon in the hand and put it on fire, because anyone who gets near the convoy, shoot them because the situation is not good." During the movement of the convoy the witness and his colleagues tried as much as possible to keep people away from the convoy.

The witness confirmed that the order in which the convoy travelled that day was first a black Toyota Land Cruiser , followed by four Mercedes vehicles - the second of which was Mr. Hariri's personal car - and at the rear a blue Chevrolet Suburban vehicle which was used as an ambulance. The four ISF officers were in the Land Cruiser, that is the witness (the ‘corporal’), the ‘soldier’, the ‘adjutant’ and the ‘driver’. The witness explained that he thinks the jamming equipment of the other cars in the convoy was working properly as it was causing the alarms of the cars parked in the streets to go off; all cars in the convoy were equipped with wireless equipment to communicate as normal phones would not work. When they reached the St. George area, the witness did not see anything unusual; there was a yellow truck with an old man who had a very heavy metal load and was driving very slowly, and he was told to move to the right. After he parked, the explosion happened. According to the witness, the explosion happened about 40-50 metred behind his vehicle, with his vehicle being pushed forward by the force of the blast from behind. The witness left the car, and saw his colleague the 'adjutant'. The witness described what he saw:

“Right after the explosion, the crime scene was covered by white smoke. Then about ten seconds later, we saw fire and flames. (…) So I saw the colleagues caught on 23 fire, and I ran to the car -- towards the car of the Prime Minister, and I saw that the car was caught on fire and the Prime Minister was not inside the car.” (…) “At first I did not see him inside the car because he was thrown outside the car.” “I saw his body on the floor. I carried him with another rescuer from the rescue teams, and we were -- later on by another military staff, Mahmoud Hallak, so we were three to carry him until we reached the ambulance which took him later on 1 to the hospital.”

The witness tried to help several other victims at the crime scene whilst his feet were bleeding, and only after being questioned by General Hajj at the ISF headquarters he was taken to the hospital.

During cross-examination, Defence counsel Mr Mettraux questioned the witness about the relationship between General Hajj and Hariri. Before Mr Hajj became the head of the ISF, he worked for Hariri. At some stage he was removed from his position in Hariri’s security arrangements because it became apparent that General Hajj was spying on Hariri. The witness heard that he was giving instructions to the Syrian military intelligence. Hajj was the one that ordered the significant reduction of Hariri’s security apparatus from 40 to 8 sometime between December 2004 and January 2005. The reduction had a great effect. The marked police cars and explosives experts were taken away from the team, which provided additional protection. The explosives experts, accompanied by their trained dogs, used to search the routes before the prime minister moved. According to the witness they are the most important part of a convoy and they would have been able to identify several hundred kilos of explosives parked on a truck around the corner. Further, in November 2004 Mr. Hajj cancelled measures to detect threats towards Hariri. In January 2005 the ISF also removed patrol cars from the Phoenicia/St. Georges area where the attack took place.

During cross-examination the witness was further questioned about what happened after the attack. The witness stated that within 15 minutes he saw Mr. Khaled Alywan, accompanying General Hajj, at the crime scene. Mr. Alywan was in the intelligence section of the ISF. Mr. Alywan took the witness’s weapon and the bodyguards of General Hajj put the witness in a car. The witness was brought to the headquarters of the ISF, where he was questioned. Most questions were about Wissam El-Hassan, which the witness found strange as he was an eye-witness of the attack. They didn’t offer the witness any medical assistance, but after thirty minutes of questioning they dropped him close to the American University Hospital. After that the witness went to Quraitem Palace.

The other ISF witness to testify, PRH149 is a companion and colleague of witness PRH357, who also was chosen to be kept in the reduced group of eight persons for the close protection of Hariri. In court he will be referred to as the ‘soldier’. Before the reduction of the apparatus securing Hariri, the witness was assigned to check the itinerary of the prime minister. Together with 18-20 people he used to search the areas for explosives, organised the pass way, posted people and controlled the traffic in those areas. He was in an advance party ahead of the actual convoy. After the reduction of the team, the witness became a member of the protection team in the convoy. Because General Hajj didn’t buy them a military car, Wissam El-Hassan brought them a Land Cruiser. They used to travel in the Mercedes vehicles used by Hariri’s personal civilian bodyguards.

The witness testified that the Maritime route was from a security point of view the best route to take. If you wanted to go to Quraitem Palace, you either have to take Hamra Street or the Maritime route. In Hamra Street there is always a lot of traffic and that’s why the convoy decided to take the Maritime route on 14 February 2005. This witness was one of the four ISF members in the very first car of the convoy (the Land Cruiser). The 'adjutant' gave the orders to take the journey along Foch Street towards the marina and the St. Georges Hotel. The witness said it was a perfectly normal trip and he did not feel anything unusual. The jammers were working for sure, as when they started to move the convoy the radio was intercepted. During cross-examination, the witness told the court that at the moment the convoy passed the St. Georges Hotel, he looked to the right as he was supposed to monitor the right sector. He didn’t see any double-parked cars. He also stated that he didn’t see a Mitsubishi Canter.

When the explosion occurred, it was impossible for the witness to see anything. He noticed that the car’s engine broke down, the glasses were destroyed and the body of the car was dented. The driver lost consciousness and the car continued its way forward for a while until it stopped by the sidewalk. The witness was seated on the right side of the vehicle, right behind the 'adjutant'. After a few minutes he saw the body of Mr. Hariri on the ground. This was approximately ten minutes before Mr. Bahaa arrived. He also saw Mr. Bassel Fuleihan caught on fire. After that the witness brought injured witness PRH076 to the hospital.

Answering questions of the legal representative of the victims Mr Haynes, the witness explained that he stayed approximately one hour at the scene after the bomb detonated. It took about three-quarters of an hour before any emergency services, ambulances and the like turned up, because no one could arrive at the crime scene. The witness was injured, his hands, legs and head were hit. He was in shock.


The next Prosecution's witnesses will be related to the purchase of the canter vehicle, and subsequently some journalists dealing with the false claim of responsibility. The Prosecution hopes to complete this area of evidence in late July or immediately after the recess, then moving to the telecommunications evidence.

Summaries of written evidence, including evidence on the alleged false claim of responsibility for the attack

With witness Hammoud the Prosecution has finalised calling witnesses about the political background and situation in Lebanon before the assassination, and the political difficulties Hariri was facing.

On 22 May the Prosecution read out a number of summaries of witness statements previously tendered into evidence. This included two witnesses who were wounded by the attack that killed Hariri and others, and a witness who imported trucks from Dubai to Lebanon, which according to the Prosecution included the Mitsubishi canter that contained the explosives used in the attack. Also the Prosecution read out a summary of a witness whose mobile number was used during the sale of Mitsubishi canter in Tripoli, with the witness denying any involvement in this sale.

Further, there was the summary of a statement by the now deceased father of Ahmad Abu Adass about the disappearance of his son on 16 January 2005. The family had received an anonymous call from a man who told them that Ahmad would be brought back that afternoon and that their car had broken down; later on there was another call informing them that Ahmad had traveled to Iraq. Ahmad’s father described his son as religiously committed, and further explained that his son did not own a car and did not know how to drive. Mr Abu Adass sr. also said that he had seen the video of Ahmad in which he claims responsibility for the attack. His son looked very skinny and his voice was very low, whilst his son was well-built and had a loud voice,; also he never used to wear a turban or the type of clothes shown in the video.

In addition, summaries were read out of a witness whose identification was used to obtain a SIM card used in one of the telephone networks (which the Prosecution is linking to the accused) and a witness who, the Prosecution alleges, sold five of the eight Red Network handsets on the 30 December 2004. Finally, the Prosecution is dealing with mobile phone contracts showing how the different phone networks allegedly used by the accused were set up in preparation of the assassination, ensuring anonymity of its users; according to the Prosecution these contracts provides some small evidentiary links to the accused.

Closing arguments in the contempt case

On 18 and 19 June, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon heard the parties' arguments in the contempt case against Al Khayat and her news corporation Al Jadeed T.V. The Amicus Prosecutor started with his closing arguments. A short summary of the parties' arguments is set out below.

Amicus Prosecutor's closing arguments

[Screenshot of Amicus Prosecutor Kenneth Scott.]

Amicus Prosecutor Kenneth Scott argued that Ms Khayat and Al Jadeed endangered (potential) witnesses by disclosing information about persons alleged to be protected witnesses. Witnesses and potential witnesses will lose their confidence in the proceedings. He argued that the need to discourage this type of behaviour is a matter of great public interest. He argued that the case at hand constitutes behaviour falling within the scope of Rule 60 which prohibits "interference with the administration of justice". He argued that there need to be no actual interference where the conduct undermines the court's legitimacy, but a real risk that the conduct will result in that. He requested a 6 million euro fine for Al Jadeed and for Al Khayat two years' imprisonment and a 200,000 euro fine.

The Amicus Prosecutor argued that Al Jadeed did not have to identify the persons in question, they could have provided the same information that they deemed relevant without divulging their identities and without putting them at risk.

Defence closing arguments
The defence for Al Khayat and Al Jadeed presented its closing arguments. According to counsel for the defence, Karim Khan, QC, Mr. Scott mischaracterised the evidence. Whilst the Prosecutor had referred to people and witnesses at risk, that was not the charge in the indictment. The indictment states that the confidence in the tribunal was undermined. He further criticises the Prosecutor's closing brief where the Prosecutor shifted the burden of proof on the defence in arguing that there was no evidence that the email that was purportedly sent was not received by Al Khayat.

[Screenshot of Ms. Karma Al Khayat.]

Khan stated moreover that the journalists identified themselves in the broadcasts; they made jokes with the persons they were interviewing. They did not intimidate in any way. Further, Khan argues that there is no actus reus (the objective element of a crime), there is no confidence undermined, which is essential to proving interference within Rule 60 of the Rules. He stresses that Rule 60bis specifies that only conduct that undermines the proper administration of justice, and does not state may undermine or the risk of undermining. There is no mens rea (the mental element the commission of a crime) either, according to counsel for the defence, Al Khayat cooperated, and always operated to the best standards and best practice of journalists. Further, where the Amicus stated that identities were divulged, counsel for the defendants states that the faces were pixelated, their faces were not shown, their names were not provided. This provides evidence that Al Jadeed did not have criminal intent. Khan addresses Judge Lettieri when he states: "In order to convict Al Jadeed and Ms. Karma Khayat, you must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the only plausible explanation for the broadcast was a criminal intent to undermine confidence in the Tribunal. If there is any other plausible option, an acquittal must result. And we say the Prosecutor has not discharged that burden of proof".

The contested email of 11 August 2012 from Mr Lodge from the STL sent to Ms Khayat is addressed by the Amicus Prosecutor in his rebuttal. This email contained the order of the Trial Chamber of 10 August 2012, directing Al Jadeed to stop the broadcast series containing the contested information. Ms Khayat claimed she never received the email, though the Amicus Prosecutor states he does not believe this, as it was sent to Ms Khayat's regular email address that she had used before and after. Mr Khan in his rebuttal stressed that Mr Lodge himself had testified that he had no idea whether the email had been received by Ms Khayat. 

Mr Khan further stresses that the rights of the accused are similar in this case to any other criminal case, and that the court should not convict unless convinced beyond reasonable doubt that they have committed the crimes they are charged with. In his opinion, this threshold has not been met in the instant case. 

Rodney Dixon, second counsel for the accused, set out arguments in relation to corporate liability. Stressing that this is the first case ever that a corporation is being tried for contempt of court in international criminal law, it is essential that it has to be right. Of course, Judge Lettieri had been against prosecuting the corporations (see our earlier blogs: here and here), but the Appeals Chamber had ruled against him. Whilst there is thus no use for the defence to revisit that argument, Dixon set out that the Amicus Prosecutor had failed to establish the elements of the offenses. Since there is no international case law on this matter, national jurisdictions have to be consulted, and the Amicus Prosecutor has failed to do so properly. 

In her final speech to the court, Ms Khayat stressed that "We will not be silent. We will not step back. We will not be afraid of you. We will never, never stop. You will never be above the rights of the Lebanese people", indicating that in her opinion this whole case is more about press freedom, and not about contempt of court, thus dismissing the Prosecution's argument that Al Jadeed put witnesses at real risk, and that they obstructed justice willfully and intentionally. 

The Judge indicated that a written judgment will be produced in approximately two months' time.