Jan 18, 2016

Evidence on phones and property owned by the accused

During the last few months of 2015, the Prosecution presented various witnesses (and documents; see our previous blog) as evidence that certain phones or houses were owned by the accused. The testimonies of these witnesses were relatively short, with the witnesses mostly commenting on documents the Prosecution wanted to tender into evidence. There was also very limited cross-examination; this raises questions about the need to hear these witnesses in court, as their evidence seems largely unchallenged.

PRH067 (30 September) on Oneissi's phone
The evidence of PRH067 is to establish that the so-called purple phone was owned by Mr Oneissi. The witness came into contact with Mr Oneissi around 1999. Mr Oneissi was a client of the witness, and they had over 80 professional appointments, with the last appointment on 21 August 2004. PRH067 testified that Mr Oneissi - who he knew as Hussein Hassan Issa - provided his office with a contact number, and this number is the same as the purple phone appearing in the Prosecution's case. The phone number and the meetings were recorded in a client file and business records. The witness's two office numbers had repeated contacts with the phone number of Mr Oneissi, the last time being approximately two weeks before the attack of 28 January 2005.
Witness PRH371, an analyst, observed that the phone number of Mr Oneissi's purple phone activated cells providing coverage in the area of the PRH067's workplace on 40 occasions, 37 of which were on days Mr Oneissi had an appointment with this witness.

Mahmoud Assi (1 October) on Ayyash's phone
The witness's evidence is to establish that a personal mobile phone was owned by Mr Ayyash. The name of this witness appears on two insurance documents for a claim for an accident that took place on 20 November 2004. However, Mr Assi is not the person who prepared the expert report, but his colleague Mr Kalash did. The witness is a vehicle accident expert with an insurance company and testified about what happens when accidents occur in Lebanon and when experts get called. The insurance documents also contain Mr Ayyash's name, and the phone number that the Prosecution claims to be Mr. Ayyash's.

PRH651 (2 October) on Merhi's phone
This evidence is about the attribution of phones to Mr Merhi. Witness PRH651 is a a senior manager for a furniture manufacturer and seller. He testified about certain business documents on the delivery of furniture on 24 and 26 November 2004 to the Merhi family. One document is an order that the phone number that the Prosecution claims to be owned by Mr Merhi and his family; another document is signed by Mr Merhi. The furniture was sold through a retailer but directly delivered to the customer.

PRH647 (9 November 2015) on Merhi's house
Witness PRH647 describes the Gardenia building in Beirut. The witness was shown a photograph of a man who looked like someone who lived in the Gardenia building in 2010-2012 and whose family name is Merhi. The witness believes that the same man has two sons. He may have had some limited contact with Merhi but does not recall the contact specifically.

PRH688 (10 November 2015) on Merhi's father's house
This witness gave evidence about the lease of a real estate in Haret-Hreik by Mr Habib Ali Merhi in the period 2005-2008, which he used to run a cloth shop. Mr Merhi, the father of the accused Merhi, lived across the street from these business premises, although after the building was partially destroyed during the 2006 war they moved temporarily to Aley. Mr Merhi had children, including a son called Haidar, and another son identified by the witness in a picture. According to the Prosecution, this evidence is relevant because the location of the home of the father of the accused is relevant to establish that three phones used in (preparing) the bomb attack were owned or used by the accused Merhi.

In addition, in September there was a witness testifying about Abu Adass, the person who claimed the responsibility for the attack through a video message.

PRH087 (29 September) on Abu Adass
PRH087 lived nearby the Abu Adass family in February 2005. He described them as a conservative, religious and well-mannered family who had no problems in the neighbourhood. The witness did not have much contact with the family. Ahmad Abu Adass was introvert and became more religious from 2001 or 2002; he let his beard grow and wore religious clothes like a Salafist. The witness never heard Ahmad express any political views, although he had seen Ahmad’s elder brother working for the Hariri election campaign in 1996 and he thought the family supported Hariri. The witness saw Ahmad going to the Arab University mosque on Friday, andAhmad would be reserved and sitting alone. Once, about a week before Ahmad’s disappearance, the witness saw him talking to a young man with a dark skin in the mosque. PRH087 describes meeting Ahmad’s father Taysir, who told him Ahmad had been missing for a couple of days, and that they had received a phone call from someone saying that he was in the north and that the car had broken down and he couldn’t come home. The witness has seen the tape with Ahmad claiming responsibility for the attack. Ahmad looked very different from the person he had known before and the family of Ahmad was totally destroyed after this.

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