Nov 18, 2015

Evidence on the origin of the SIM cards allegedly used by those responsible for the bomb attack

During the beginning of September the Prosecution called various witnesses to present evidence on the origins and nature of the network phones and SIM cards allegedly used by the accused in preparing and organising the bomb attack. The Prosecution intends to show that all SIM cards were purchased anonymously. Further, in relation to the red network phones, it is the Prosecution's case that the SIM cards were sold by a mobile telephone distributor to witness PRH553 on 24 December 2004 and delivered to his shop in Tripoli. At some point between 24 December 2004 and 4 January 2005 witness PRH553 sold the eight red network cards, but the Prosecution cannot establish to whom these were sold. Attached to the forms for these SIM cards were identification documents of customers from the Tripoli area, all of whom had purchased their own SIM cards during the holiday period. On 4 January 2005 the eight red network SIM cards were activated.

Mr El-Ajouz (31 August, 1 and 2 September 2015)

Mr El-Ajouz is the owner of Power Group, a mobile telephone distributor. Power Group distributes pre-paid and post-paid SIM cards, scratch cards (to recharge pre-paid SIM card) and handsets to hundreds of dealers in Lebanon. Power Group is an authorised distributor of Alfa products. One of the businesses to which distribution took place was run by witness PRH553 (see further below).

Mr El-Ajouz testifies about the storage and documentation of the products, which, among others, can be tracked through their serial number or bar codes on a form. The witness is commenting on a number of records (including delivery notes, receipt vouchers, and purchase overviews of a particular point of sale) of pre-paid SIM cards for lines claimed to be part of the networks used by these accused. These lines were coming from Alfa and were on-sold to a distributor in Tripoli.

When Power Group sold a group of pre-paid lines, the dealer could fill out a form including a bar code, the subscriber's name and other personal information, and a copy of the purchaser’s ID; this was sent to Alfa. However, this form was only completed for about 20% of the telephone lines. The IDs were not checked by Power Group. For post-paid SIM cards the completion of a form, including a copy of an ID, is obligatory.

During cross-examination Defence counsel is confronting the witness with reports claiming a link between an organisation he’s involved in, the Islamic Charity Projects Association, and the Syrian intelligence, which link the witness denies. Unfortunately, the transcript of 1 September has not (yet) been published and therefore the remainder of the cross-examination remains unknown or unclear for the moment.

Mr Jihad Hassan Tannir (2 September)

Mr Tannir is the former general manager of a wholesale company called Celltec. This was a similar company to Power Group - about which previous witness Mr El-Ajouz testified - in that they distributed Alfa telecommunications products. Mr Tannir explained that Celltex purchased SIM cards and recharge cards from Alfa and distributed these products to its outlets. The witness explains the procedures in distributing telephone lines, which is again similar to evidence given by Mr El-Ajouz on the practices that existed within Power Group, although Celltext also sold products to end users in its own shop. The witness comments on a number of documents, including application forms and invoices, for SIM cards that went through his firm and are claimed to have been used by the accused. Payment options for post-paid cards included payment by the customer in a branch of a certain bank or directly to Alfa, and thus there was no need to provide banking information on the application forms.

PRH090 (2 September)

Witness PRH090 is listed as the subscriber of a pre-paid mobile phone number which was used from October 2004 until September 2005 as one of the blue network phone numbers and which was particularly important in the weeks preceding the bomb attack on Hariri according to the Prosecution. The witness explained in his statement that the application form for this phone number does not contain his handwriting and that most of the information is incorrect; moreover his signature is not on the form, but it is a copy of his ID that is attached to the application. PRH090 had previously purchased a telephone number and left a copy of his identity card at the shop; he has never lost his identity card.

PRH702 (3 September)

Witness PRH702 is another witness whose name is listed as the subscriber of a mobile telephone which the Prosecution allege was part of the blue network. The witness was shown the application form for this phone number and he does not recognise the telephone number; also some of his personal information, including the spelling of his name and his address, are incorrect. He also does not recognise the handwriting on the form nor the signature. PRH702 had purchased a new SIM card towards the end of 2004 and provided an identity card during the transaction.

PRH553 (8-10 September)

Witness PRH553 owned a small mobile phone shop in Tripoli, and was involved in the wholesale and retail of mobile phone products, including SIM cards, recharge cards, handsets and mobile phone accessories. PRH568, who was very experienced in this business and able to get good prices from the dealers, was the shop manager; he dealt with the suppliers and served the customers. The group of suppliers included Power Group, Alliance, Celltec and Kettaneh. They were re-selling Alfa and MTC products, also to other shops.

The witness did not keep any records of the products sold at this shop. It was up to the other shops to complete the application form for the pre-paid cards, although the shops would receive 3 dollar for each completed form for a line (and the shop owned by PRH553 even charged 5 dollar for not completing a form); this is why forms were completed with incorrect information; any ID they had or was given to them by a shop was attached. They were able to use the same ID for tens of pre-paid phone lines. The shop filled in the forms, and very rarely did the customer himself do this. Whenever a customer did not provide an ID card, the witness would fill in the form and put in an ID card in order to recover the money. Very rarely did the form match the identity of the buyer of the SIM card, and the witness would make up the names, addresses, dates and signatures. According to the witness “[t]here was nobody carrying a line with his own name unless we are talking about the post-paid cards or the fixed lines.” Therefore, the Prosecution's theory that all network telephone lines used by the accused were obtained anonymously, seems to apply to almost all (pre-paid) telephone lines in Lebanon at that time.

In September 2005, the witness was charged with having falsified personal papers, and using these falsified papers in relation to the activation forms for the eight SIM cards of the red network. He has been incarcerated for almost three years by the Lebanese authorities but no trial was ever held. The Defence confronts PRH553 with a number of possible contradictions between his previous statements and his testimony in court. However, some of the interrogation of the witness by the Lebanese authorities took place under very harsh conditions and without access to a lawyer.

Defence Counsel Mr Mettraux is questioning the witness about telephone calls between his shop manager, PRH568 (a dropped Prosecution witness), and the Tripoli sales person from Power Group around the date of purchase of the red network cards in December 2005; the Defence also claims to have evidence that shows contact between PRH568 and the Syrian military intelligence. There is also a small dealer, whose name is kept confidential in court ('number six’), about whom the witness and PRH568 remembered that PRH568 sold him ten lines in early January 2005, but they did not remember the exact date of the sale. Therefore it is unknown whether these were the same ten lines as used by the red network. The witness does not remember to whom he sold the red network lines. Further, the Defence has evidence of a number of phone calls between PRH568 and number six (and the assistant of number six) on 30 December 2004, so possibly the sale of these ten lines could have been on this date. The witness also explains that the dates on the forms are not necessarily accurate, with the date on the forms for the red network lines being 12 January 2005.

For the moment it remains unclear to whom these red network telephone lines were sold and if and how they came into the hands of the accused.

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