Given Bashar Al Assad’s brutal repression at home since 2011, it is no longer controversial internationally to address his possible connection to the murder of Rafik Hariri. Hussein Malla  /  AP Photo
Given Bashar Al Assad’s brutal repression at home since 2011, it is no longer controversial internationally to address his possible connection to the murder of Rafik Hariri. Hussein Malla / AP Photo

Hariri tribunal needs to recapture lost momentum



Last week, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is trying suspects for the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, allowed prosecutors to present evidence on the deteriorating relationship between Mr Hariri and the Syrian regime in 2004-2005.

Defence lawyers described the decision as a major expansion in the Hariri trial. That's not surprising. Until now those indicted have been five members of Hizbollah, all accused of participating in the crime at the operational level. The initial indictment prepared by Daniel Bellemare, the Canadian former prosecutor of the special tribunal, made no mention of Syria.

This was damaging to the prosecution, because in his indictment Mr Bellemare offered no motive for the killing. There was an assumption in Lebanon that Syria got rid of Hariri because he intended to challenge them in the parliamentary elections of summer 2005, and would probably have won a majority. The tribunal’s decision now allows the prosecution to reinforce its case by bringing in the Syrian angle.

The United Nations investigation of the Hariri assassination went through several permutations of uneven quality. Initially, the UN named an Irish deputy police commissioner, Peter Fitzgerald, to prepare a preliminary report on what happened. On the basis of his findings it then appointed an independent commission to look into the crime more deeply.

Mr Fitzgerald did not directly accuse Syria, but he came as close as he could to doing so. He wrote that security in Lebanon was in Syria’s hands, and that the murder had taken “considerable finance, military precision in its execution, [and] substantial logistical support”. In other words it resulted from a conspiracy that the Syrian and Lebanese security services could hardly have helped noticing. On top of this, he accused pro-Syrian Lebanese officials of trying to cover up the crime scene.

The ensuing UN independent commission was first headed by Detlev Mehlis, a German judge. Like Mr Fitzgerald, he focused on Syrian involvement and interviewed several Syrian intelligence officials in Vienna. It was Mr Mehlis’s view that Syria was behind the assassination, and when he left his post in December 2005, he sought to take Bashar Al Assad’s witness statement, a decision that provoked Syrian anger.

Mr Mehlis was followed by a Belgian judge, Serge Brammertz, who did little to advance the investigation. This was confirmed to me by two senior Lebanese officials and a former UN investigator. Mr Brammertz’s progress reports prompted Mr Mehlis to later tell me that the investigation “had lost all momentum” since the Belgian had taken over.

Indeed, Mr Brammertz appeared to abandon the path of Syrian involvement. He never took Mr Al Assad’s statement, nor did he arrest anyone. Mr Mehlis had been on the verge of arresting Rustom Ghazaleh, who headed Syria’s intelligence apparatus in Lebanon, before deciding to leave this to his successor.

There were also serious doubts about Mr Brammertz’s handling of telecommunications data showing Hizbollah’s involvement in the assassination. A 2010 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary echoed this, revealing that a report prepared by a Lebanese police investigator used telecommunications analysis to point the finger at Hizbollah. The report was misplaced by UN investigators, then rediscovered. Today it serves as the basis for the indictment of the Hizbollah members.

To many, Mr Brammertz was a careerist who grasped that the UN did not want to rock the boat with the Hariri investigation.

However, Mr Brammertz did one thing useful. In a report he provided a hypothesis for the Hariri killing, writing, “there is a layer of perpetrators between those who initially commissioned the crime and the actual perpetrators on the day of the crime, namely those who enabled the crime to occur.”

Today, that hypothesis seems even more probable, and the decision of the tribunal to open the door to an examination of Hariri’s tensions with Syria shows why. Syria’s leadership saw that a successful electoral challenge by Hariri would endanger its hegemony over Lebanon, and sought Hizbollah assistance to eliminate the threat. The party agreed, fearing that a weakened Syria could no longer protect Hizbollah’s arms and autonomy.

Mr Bellemare, Mr Brammertz’s successor, failed to consider this when preparing his indictment of Hizbollah members. True, he was working with the deficient file left by his Belgian counterpart, but he also never gave new impetus to the UN investigation after taking office.

Mr Bellemare’s indictment was not much appreciated by the man who succeeded him, Norman Farrell. The prosecution’s introduction of a Syrian motive into the trial appears to be a new effort to modify the initial Bellemare indictment. It is difficult to imagine that if prosecutors hear strong testimony pointing to a Syrian role, they will not amend the indictment yet again to include, perhaps, Mr Ghazaleh or even Mr Al Assad.

Indeed, Mr Mehlis left quite a bit of testimony pointing to Syria in his files. And given Mr Al Assad’s brutal repression at home since 2011, it is no longer so controversial internationally to address his possible connection to the Hariri killing – with many observers regarding it as implausible that the crime could have been carried out by subordinates without his knowledge.

It will be up to Mr Farrell to press forward with an accusation against Syrian officials. But as the tribunal pursues its course, one thing is becoming increasingly evident: the UN investigation of Hariri’s assassination fell far short of expectations, and prosecutors today are still struggling with that fact.

Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star in Beirut

Twitter @BeirutCalling

Like a Fading Shadow

Antonio Muñoz Molina

Translated from the Spanish by Camilo A. Ramirez

Tuskar Rock Press (pp. 310)

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

Family reunited

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born and raised in Tehran and studied English literature before working as a translator in the relief effort for the Japanese International Co-operation Agency in 2003.+

She moved to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies before moving to the World Health Organisation as a communications officer.

She came to the UK in 2007 after securing a scholarship at London Metropolitan University to study a master's in communication management and met her future husband through mutual friends a month later.

The couple were married in August 2009 in Winchester and their daughter was born in June 2014.

She was held in her native country a year later.+

The specs

Engine: Two permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors

Transmission: two-speed

Power: 671hp

Torque: 849Nm

Range: 456km

Price: from Dh437,900 

On sale: now

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

How Tesla’s price correction has hit fund managers

Investing in disruptive technology can be a bumpy ride, as investors in Tesla were reminded on Friday, when its stock dropped 7.5 per cent in early trading to $575.

It recovered slightly but still ended the week 15 per cent lower and is down a third from its all-time high of $883 on January 26. The electric car maker’s market cap fell from $834 billion to about $567bn in that time, a drop of an astonishing $267bn, and a blow for those who bought Tesla stock late.

The collapse also hit fund managers that have gone big on Tesla, notably the UK-based Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust and Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF.

Tesla is the top holding in both funds, making up a hefty 10 per cent of total assets under management. Both funds have fallen by a quarter in the past month.

Matt Weller, global head of market research at GAIN Capital, recently warned that Tesla founder Elon Musk had “flown a bit too close to the sun”, after getting carried away by investing $1.5bn of the company’s money in Bitcoin.

He also predicted Tesla’s sales could struggle as traditional auto manufacturers ramp up electric car production, destroying its first mover advantage.

AJ Bell’s Russ Mould warns that many investors buy tech stocks when earnings forecasts are rising, almost regardless of valuation. “When it works, it really works. But when it goes wrong, elevated valuations leave little or no downside protection.”

A Tesla correction was probably baked in after last year’s astonishing share price surge, and many investors will see this as an opportunity to load up at a reduced price.

Dramatic swings are to be expected when investing in disruptive technology, as Ms Wood at ARK makes clear.

Every week, she sends subscribers a commentary listing “stocks in our strategies that have appreciated or dropped more than 15 per cent in a day” during the week.

Her latest commentary, issued on Friday, showed seven stocks displaying extreme volatility, led by ExOne, a leader in binder jetting 3D printing technology. It jumped 24 per cent, boosted by news that fellow 3D printing specialist Stratasys had beaten fourth-quarter revenues and earnings expectations, seen as good news for the sector.

By contrast, computational drug and material discovery company Schrödinger fell 27 per cent after quarterly and full-year results showed its core software sales and drug development pipeline slowing.

Despite that setback, Ms Wood remains positive, arguing that its “medicinal chemistry platform offers a powerful and unique view into chemical space”.

In her weekly video view, she remains bullish, stating that: “We are on the right side of change, and disruptive innovation is going to deliver exponential growth trajectories for many of our companies, in fact, most of them.”

Ms Wood remains committed to Tesla as she expects global electric car sales to compound at an average annual rate of 82 per cent for the next five years.

She said these are so “enormous that some people find them unbelievable”, and argues that this scepticism, especially among institutional investors, “festers” and creates a great opportunity for ARK.

Only you can decide whether you are a believer or a festering sceptic. If it’s the former, then buckle up.

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat 

Inside Out 2

Director: Kelsey Mann

Starring: Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri

Rating: 4.5/5


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