Lebanon prosecutors try to reverse acquittals in Hariri blast case

All suspects were tried in their absence and remain at large

epa08611225 (FILE) - Emergency personnel inspect the scene after of a car bomb that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, in Beirut, Lebanon, 14 February 2005 (Reissued 18 August 2020). On 18 August 2020, Judges of the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Netherlands found Salim Ayyash, a member of the Hezbollah militant group, guilty of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and 21 others on 14 February 2005.  EPA-EFE/WAEL HAMZEH
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Prosecutors seeking to overturn the acquittal of two men over the 2005 assassination of Lebanese former prime minister Rafik Al Hariri have said there were “fundamental errors” in the judgment.

They said on Monday that judges of the lower chamber at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon had not properly assessed circumstantial evidence in the case, which was based almost entirely on mobile phone records, when they acquitted Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Hassan Oneissi last year.

“It is this incorrect approach to assessing the evidence which infects the judgment as a whole and is fundamental in understanding how, in the prosecution's submission, the judgment went wrong,” said prosecutor Norman Farrell.

The lower trial chamber last year convicted Salim Jamil Ayyash, a former member of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, for the bombing that killed veteran Sunni politician Hariri and 21 others.

All suspects were tried in absentia and remain at large. Prosecutors are now seeking the conviction on appeal of Mr Merhi and Mr Oneissi.

Lawyers for Mr Ayyash have also tried to appeal his conviction, but judges in April said there were was no legal framework to allow a defence appeal for somebody tried in absentia. Ayyash would be able to lodge an appeal or demand a retrial if he ever handed himself in, they said.

The hearing on the appeal lodged by the prosecution is scheduled to last five days. A judgment will follow later.

The Lebanon tribunal was created by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution. Funded by voluntary contributions and by the Lebanese government, the court said in June it was at risk of closing due to funding problems.

It says it has now secured enough funding to see the appeal in the Hariri assassination case through, but is expected to wrap up soon after.

Updated: October 04, 2021, 12:07 PM