The Special Tribunal for Lebanon began to hear testimony Monday from a prosecutorial staffer responsible for building the database underlying a software program to generate visual representations of phone networks allegedly used to plot the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Associate evidence custodian Bastiaan Van der Laaken took the stand to explain the technical process of assembling an Excel database of evidence collected by the prosecution.
This evidence primarily consists of phone and mapping data, including call sequence tables; cell site data from mobile service providers; alleged attribution of phone numbers to users or colored phone networks; locations of interest; and the Hariri convoy’s routes. After they are introduced in court, these layers of evidence are uploaded into the Electronic Presentation of Evidence software. The prosecution’s eventual goal is to generate visual representations of the multitude of connections to present to the court.
Defendant Mustafa Badreddine’s lawyer Mylene Dimitri had estimated needing one to two hours to cross-examine Van der Laaken, and it soon became clear she intended to undermine the accuracy of the evidence provided to him, and his work structuring it into spreadsheets.
While Dimitri repeatedly questioned the accuracy of the call sequence tables assembled from call data records, Van der Laaken pointed out he was not a telecoms data analyst, and his role was structuring the data to be read by the EPE.
Furthermore, Dimitri sought to suggest that errors lay in the transferring of data from the call data records to the call sequence tables; from the tables to the Excel spreadsheets; and from Excel to the EPE. Van der Laaken said the possibility of transfer errors was “slim;” moreover, he said potential issues likely had to do with formatting that rendered the data unintelligible to the EPE.
But Dimitri went on to detail transfer errors her team had discovered after comparing his work with two days of call sequence tables for the number ending in the digits “663,” which the prosecution attributes to Badreddine. Some of these 10 errors involved the Excel identifying calls as SMSs or vice versa, or misattributing cell sites to calls.
In his defense, Van der Laaken noted the version to be presented to the court had not been finalized yet, and the data in the EPE was a work in progress. He dismissed the errors as “formatting anomalies.”
Dimitri will continue cross-examining him Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, the prosecution briefly presented the remaining witness statements regarding the November 2004 delivery of furniture to defendant Hassan Merhi’s home. These were given by furniture retailer Kamal Ismail, who had phone contact with two alleged Merhi mobile numbers, and the two drivers involved in the delivery. The prosecution’s reconstruction of the purchase and delivery is intended to prove Merhi owned the purple network number ending in “231.”
A protected witness allegedly acquainted with Merhi also testified via video link about the alleged location of the defendant’s residence. Based on a photo of Merhi provided by the prosecution, the witness confirmed with “70-80 percent” certainty that the image was of a neighbor who had lived in the Gardenia Building in Burj al-Barajneh, a southern suburb of Beirut.
While a substantial portion of Merhi lawyer Jad Khalil’s cross-examination was redacted from the public broadcast, it was revealed that the witness conceded the blurry photo might be of Merhi’s brother, whom he said closely resembled the defendant.
The witness also had rarely been present in Lebanon, and after moving home in 2001, he continued to regularly travel for work until 2006. As such, he could not confirm Merhi was living in Burj al-Barajneh in the crucial years of 2004 and 2005.
In a prescient move, the witness left the neighborhood three days before the Gardenia Building was destroyed in the July 2006 War. He returned in 2010 and occasionally crossed paths with Merhi in the neighborhood over the next two years, but he said their interactions were limited to a simple hello.