Feb 12, 2016

Witnesses testify about accused Mr Badreddine

Background of Mr Badreddine

This blog post analyses the evidence that was brought forward by the Prosecution over the last few months specifically in relation to the accused Mustafa Amine Badreddine.

(Picture of accused Badreddine from STL official website

The Indictment (para. 3 under a) specifies that "BADREDDINE monitored and, together with AYYASH, coordinated: (i) the surveillance of HARIRI in preparation for the attack; and (ii) the purchase of the van which was used to perpetrate the attack. BADREDDINE monitored the physical perpetration of the attack. In addition, BADREDDINE monitored and, together with MERHI, coordinated the preparation of the false claim of responsibility."

In November and December, the Prosecution called several witnesses to testify about the role that Badreddine allegedly played in the attack on former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2005.

Witness Nicole Blanch (19 November, 16 December 2015)

Ms Blanch works as an associate analyst within the Prosecution section of the Lebanon Tribunal. Her witness statement is provided an MFI exhibit number, but since no summary of that was read onto the record, it was difficult to follow her narrative in the courtroom.

She was tasked to review the SMS content for a phone attributed to the accused Badreddine (a telephone called PMP 663). She located a number of SMS messages between Badreddine's phone and  a phone number ending with 432, addressed as 'Jad'. These messages concerned refueling of vehicles and meeting at particular times and places, with Jad using the term 'boss'.

The witness prepared a document about this for demonstrative purposes in court, and also a sheet with the phone contacts between these two numbers. This sheet shows that there is frequent but short contact between these phones, and that there is the shared phone number of witness PRH416 (who has still to appear as a witness in court). Further, on 21 January 2005, the phones attributed to Mr Badreddine and Jad were in the Jounieh area back to Beirut; this corroborates the evidence of PRH416. According to the witness, this shows that "Jad was present with Sami Issa in Jounieh, and this was part of his role as a bodyguard for Sami Issa," and that Jad was responsible for the vehicles.

The witness is cross-examined by Mr Edwards representing the accused Mr Badreddine, who challenged the witness's evidence, suggesting that she made a selection of SMS messages that was most persuasive to her purposes (to show that Jad was a driver for Mr Badreddine, and that these SMS messages support the evidence of PRH416) and that a lot of different conclusions--at least different from hers--can be drawn from the SMS content. He thus suggested the possibility of an alternative theory or theories to the Prosecution's theory.

PRH416 (1-4 and 7 December)

Witness PRH416 was an employee of someone he knew as Sami Issa, a proprietor of a jewelry store part of a company called Samino. According to the Prosecution, Sami Issa is the same person as the accused Badreddine. The Defence challenges this theory. The witness was a security guard in one of the jewelry shops owned by Issa in the summer of 2002, and then worked as a bodyguard for Sami Issa  from fall 2002 until late January 2005. 

The witness identifies the phone number of Mr Issa and various of his employees and bodyguards, and he identifies manager Chaker and Mr Issa on photos. Mr Issa had a team of four bodyguards who carried weapons, and together they would be in one car with very tinted glass and Mr Issa in another car with no or lightly tinted glass. The witness thinks Mr Issa had another team of bodyguards. Generally, the witness's team would work from 2pm until midnight, and would receive a phone call as to where to meet with Mr Issa and where to pick up a car. Cars were picked up and dropped off at parking lots. They always dropped off Mr Issa at highways or main roads. The witness went with Mr Issa to restaurants and bars in Beirut. They were instructed to prevent anybody of taking pictures of Mr Issa.  The witness does not know why Mr Issa needed bodyguards; he did not carry around jewelry or cash. The witness further comments on a number of phone records between Mr Issa and him between 24 and 26 September 2014, when they used to frequent the Jounieh area in Beirut, and describes various other locations he accompanied Mr Issa to. 

Mr Issa had a briefcase with several mobile phones. At one particular moment, the witness saw him carry five phones. Mr Issa made sure he never left finger prints, e.g. he would use a cloth to touch a handset in a shop, and would pick up his cutlery with tissues or clean his cutlery after usage. He would often wear a baseball cap or sunglasses. Mr Issa had something in his right knee and used to limp. He was registered at a university in Beirut. He had various license plates for each of the cars he used, and would instruct the witness and his fellow bodyguards which plate to put on the vehicle. This included a license plate used by the intelligence directorate and a military license plate. Upon Mr Issa's instructions, the witness also made sure nobody followed him by taking circuitous routes, different routes, or park far away from his home.

A large part of this witness's testimony was conducted in closed session, and the content thereof was shielded from the audience.

During cross-examination the witness agreed with the suggestion by counsel for Mr Badreddine that the security measures taken by Mr Issa would be quite normal and reasonable for a successful jeweler, in view of the risks of robbery and kidnapping. The witness was also questioned about his phone calls with Mr Issa in 2006 and 2007, that is, after he had left his job. He was questioned about a text message he had received from Mr Issa, stating 'today is off'. The witness denied being reemployed by Mr Issa after January 2005, although later on during cross-examination he did admit that he did some more work for Mr Issa in 2007 as a bodyguard, on perhaps ten to twelve occasions.

PRH306 (7, 8 and 9 December)

Again, for Witness PRH306 several statements have been made available to the parties and the judges that the audience does not have access to, nor was a summary thereof read out in court. The parties'  questions to this witness are however based on that undisclosed information, which makes it difficult for outsiders to understand the exact context of the testimony. This witness, as well as witnesses PRH264 and PRH089 below, all testified about a jewelry trader in Beirut, Mr Issa, and his likeliness to accused Mr Badreddine. 

This witness is currently working in a managerial position in a large jewelry business outside of Lebanon, and because of his experience he is supposed to have an understanding of both the business aspects and the sales aspects of the jewelry business. He worked for Mr Issa sometime in 2002 or 2003 in the latter's shop called Samino. The witness testifies that Mr Issa did not know much about the jewelry trade; Mr Issa did not seem to be very much interested in the jewelry shops or the details of the business. The witness and his colleagues did not understand why Mr Issa owned jewelry shops. 

When Mr Issa would visit the jewelry shop, he would always bring one of his girlfriends along, but at a later stage he would also bring his bodyguards. The witness testifies that the manager of all three jewelry shops was a man named Mohammed Chukr, also referred to as Estez Chaker. In the beginning he did not know much about the jewelry trade, but he began to learn on the job. In Mr Issa's office there was no computer, the witness recalls. Sometimes the witness would find a paper and a pen, but nothing much. The witness further recalls that the brother of Rustom Ghazaleh (Rustom Ghazaleh was the head of Syrian security in Lebanon) visited the shop on one occasion, but that Mr Sami said he should go to another shop; this was approximately late 2004. The witness further states that Mr Issa did not do any work in his office on the top floor of the jewelry shop. He did take naps in that particular place, though, and he would bring girls there. He said he wanted to take advertisement photos of the girls, but he never did. In March of 2005 the witness stopped working for this jewelry shop.

The witness is asked by counsel for the Prosecutor to identify several phone numbers that were used by Sami Issa at the time, and similarly for the aforementioned person Mohammed Chukr, as well as employees from the jewelry shop.

The witness is then asked more questions about this person Chukr, who was an accountant, according to the witness.

The witness concluded that Mr Issa belonged to the Shia sect of Islam, from his accent which was mostly that of a Shia Muslim, the fact that he did not specify to which confession he belonged, and that he wore a beard and black clothes during the Ashura festivities, which is a Shia religious occasion. The witness is also presented with photographs by the Prosecutor, and asked to identify the  building on those photos, which is the jewelry shop. He is further asked to indicate on a map the exact location of the shop. He further identifies other jewelry shop branches from the same owner.  The Bourj-Hammoud shop was closed on the day of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and never reopened again. The witness had been told they wanted to keep that shop closed because the economy was going down, although the witness said the economic situation was good.

Mr Issa didn't like his pictures taken; the witness describes him as tall, thin, completely bald, and he walked with a limp. The witness and his colleagues all found him a mysterious person; he didn't say much about his family background. The witness further details that he found Mr Issa a calm, quiet and understanding person.

The witness had found a picture on the internet, and he had subsequently contacted the Office of the Prosecutor. The person looked like the Sami that witness knew, but in the picture he had hair, and he looked younger. But otherwise, the features were the same. And this photo was of Mr Badreddine on his application for the Lebanese American University. 

Mr Issa's girlfriend had sent text messages to Mr Issa from the witness's phone when she had forgotten her own phone, and some of these are read out in court.

In cross-examination by Mr Edwards, defending the interests of Mr Badreddine, the witness is lead to testify that Mr Issa was in fact more interested in the business aspects of the jewelry store than came out in his testimony-in-chief. Judge Akoum further questions the witness about his conversations with Mr Issa. They had many phone conversations, some of them lasting up to about an hour, but the witness does not recall the content of those conversations.

PRH264 (10, 14 December 2016)

On 10 and 14 December, witness PRH 264 testified in court for the Prosecution. This witness was a friend of witness PRH089, who testified on 15 December (see below for a summary of his testimony). Witness PRH264 was a friend of Mr Issa, and assisted the latter in his jewelry businesses.

[Screenshot of pixelated face of witness PRH264 testifying in court under protective measures.]

This witness currently works as an assistant to a relative of Rafik Hariri, as he did in 2004 and 2005; the witness is also befriended to that person. Sami Issa also formed part of this group of friends; they used to all go out together at that time and several of them attended university. Sami Issa was also referred to by Safi by his friends. The witness regarded Mr Issa as a close friend. Mr Issa never wanted his photographs taken, nor would he ever talk about his personal life or his family. They never talked about politics in their group when they went out, perhaps only superficially. They went out very often, perhaps four times a week. Witness PRH089 was not part of this group. The witness visited Mr Issa in his apartment on several occasions. The apartment had been mainly empty. The witness describes Mr Issa as neither fat, nor thin, had very little hair and had a whitish skin color, between 1.75 and 1.80 meter tall. Sometimes he wore glasses, sometimes he didn't. Like the former witness, this witness testifies that Mr Issa had a problem with his leg, that he had burnt it, though it wasn't a noticeable limp, he just walked slowly. Mr Issa was a Muslim of Shia confession. He had never told the witness that directly, but the witness concluded that from the Muslim festivities that he would celebrate, also referring to the Ashura festival, though unlike the former witness, this witness did not notice any difference in Mr Issa's appearance during that festival. "You don't need to be an expert to understand that", the witness added. Mr Issa was a calm and quiet man, the witness states.  Mr Issa would wear a baseball cap most of the time. When he wasn't wearing it, the witness would not notice anything, just his hair, of which he had rather little. The witness is presented a photograph, and the witness indicates that that person looks similar to Mr Issa, though indicating that the picture is not very clear. "So it looks like him but no 100 per cent."

After the attack on Mr Rafik Hariri they had all been upset and sad, including Mr Issa, though they didn't go into the details of what had happened in their discussions. On the day of the assassination, Mr Issa had sent a text message to the witness in which he had asked him to call him back, but the witness does not recall the content of that conversation, which lasted approximately three minutes.

When the witness knew Mr Issa in 2004-2005, he estimates the latter was between 35 to 40 years old. The friendship remained until 2010, after which they all lost contact with each other.  He stopped calling the witness and the others from their group and he disappeared. Nobody knew what had happened; his phone lines were disconnected.

PRH089 (15 December, cross-examination will follow)

This witness was the employer of witness PRH264, the previous witness summarized in this blog and also a friend of Mr Issa. In 2002, the witness had been a student at university in Beirut, and that is where he first met Mr Issa. The witness did not know this person as Safi Badr. In mid-2004 the witness left university to start his own company. This witness saw Mr Issa three to four times a week, in a group of friends. The witness does not know what Mr Issa had studied at university. They had active telephone contact during 2003 and mid-2005, after which it became increasingly less frequent. During their meetings they discussed general topics including cars, clothing, and phones. The witness recalls that, regarding political opinions, Mr Issa's opinions were quite different from the witness's. Whilst they followed the former Prime Minister's, i.e. Rafik Hariri's, Mr Issa was from the other political side. The witness knew nothing about Mr Issa's family, though he knew he had not been married at the time, nor did he have any children. Mr Issa had a boat named Samino.

Mr Issa used to bring several bodyguards with him, and in his car he had a machine gun. The witness was not scared by seeing the machine gun in the car, and he did not think it was strange for Mr Issa to have this kind of security. He was a jewelry businessman. Mr Issa had a luxury car and a luxury watch, the witness testified.

This witness also testifies that Mr Issa is a Shia Muslim, Mr Issa had told him that during a conversation. He had also informed the witness that he had traveled to Syria, though the witness couldn't say the reason for that. The witness described Mr Issa as being between 170 and 175 centimeters tall, in his early 30s. He used to shave his hair very short, and he used to wear a baseball cap most of the time. He would have a goatee, though he would change it, nothing was permanent. The witness describes Mr Issa as having average weight. The only distinctive feature was an injury in his leg, probably his right leg. It had happened during a car crash, according to this witness. On one occasion the witness had seen Mr Issa's legs, and he saw the injured leg was thinner than the other. When he walked, Mr Issa had a slight limp. The witness further describes the kind of glasses Mr Issa had been wearing, thin and dark, he thought they were prescription glasses. He wore them most of the time. Mr Issa did not have a particular accent, the witness states, though Mr Issa had told him he came from the south of the country.

After Rafik Hariri had been killed, the witness and Mr Issa had had a phone conversation during which Mr Issa had told the witness that Mr Hariri had been doing good, charitable work, and that he should not have been stopped.

The witness is shown a photograph, and he says "I could say that he looks like Sami Issa, but I couldn't swear to it."

This witness was not yet cross-examined during this session in December 2015, because the defence for Badreddine needed more time given that the Prosecution had provided more evidence on this witness's testimony at the last moment. The Chamber had ruled that the defence would be given more time, and cross-examination of this witness would be permitted to postpone until somewhere in the new year. This portion of this witness's evidence will be added to this blog at a later stage. 

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