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.