The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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September 4, 2015

The Daily Star - STL defense accuses witness of collusion, September 04, 2015

Ned Whalley

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday heard the conclusion of testimony from Saadeddine El Ajouz, the owner of the Lebanese telecommunications distributor Power Group. In an aggressive but meandering cross-examination, defense lawyer Guenael Mettraux called Ajouz a liar, and accused him of witness intimidation and outright complicity in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Ajouz, testifying via video link from the STL field office in Beirut, has given evidence to the court regarding the business records and practices of his company, which distributed Alfa network SIM cards from its branch in Tripoli. The prosecution alleged that Power Group had sold on to retailers more than a dozen phone numbers that were used by those who planned the massive car bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others on Valentine’s Day 2005. These included telephone numbers purportedly used by defendants Mustafa Badreddine, Hassan Merhi, and Salim Ayyash, as well as the alleged suicide bomber.

Mettraux, a counselor representing defendant Assad Sabra, questioned Ajouz about the initial investigations of the Lebanese Military Intelligence and Internal Security Forces, who raided his offices and seized documents on two separate occasions in 2005. At the time, Ajouz was detained for several days by the ISF for interrogation.

Mettraux pointed to evidence given by a female employee of Power Group who testified that she had highlighted a list of numbers at the instruction of her manager, as the Alfa network had informed him that they had not received the necessary paperwork for these lines. After repeating this to investigators on several occasions, she abruptly recanted the statement.

Producing call logs, Mettraux alleged Ajouz had telephoned the employee 30 times over the four days between her testimony and subsequent retraction, and had driven her to her interview with officials, waiting for her afterward with a friend who worked in intelligence.

“What effect do you think that would have on a pregnant woman, to have you and your intelligence friend waiting for her?” Mettraux asked.

Ajouz claimed the employee in question was married to his cousin, also an employee, and he had legitimate reasons to make the calls.

“The reason you wanted her to change her story is because it showed one thing, that your manager in Tripoli and yourself [sic] had provided assistance to the people who had got hold of the lines before the attack,” Mettraux asserted.

Trial Chamber President Judge David Re interjected, advising Ajouz he had the right not to reply, in order that he might not incriminate himself.

Mettraux also produced call logs detailing the duration and frequency of conversations between Ajouz and Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Aal, whom he previously alleged was a “go-to man for the Lebanese and Syrian security apparatus” at the time of the assassination. Ajouz Tuesday made conflicting statements on the nature and extent of his relationship with Abdel-Aal.

Mettraux also detailed a series of calls, often made in quick succession, that he alleged were between Ajouz, Abdel-Aal and Mustafa Hamdan, the head of the Lebanese Republican Guard. Hamdan was held for nearly four years in Roumieh Prison for his alleged involvement in Hariri’s assassination, before being released for lack of evidence in 2009.

Mettraux alleged that Ajouz was part of conspiracy with a number of intelligence figures, and had facilitated the purchase of the phones used to plan the attack. He pointed to other calls between members of this group and a man linked to the purchase of the phones, as well as to the proprietor of the St. Georges Hotel, outside which the bombing took place.

Ajouz denied the allegations, arguing the defense’s version was fantastical. “There were tens of thousands of such lines. It would have been a lot easier for them to just buy the lines from any shop without any documents, any identity papers ... they could have bought them anywhere,” he said.

Following the conclusion of Ajouz’s testimony, the prosecution presented an anonymous witness who testified that their identity had been used without their knowledge to purchase one of the phones related to the planning of the bombing.

The tribunal will resume Tuesday.

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