13/12/2005
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press conference by HEAD OF INVESTIGATION INTO ASSASSINATION


OF FORMER LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER


Following his briefing to the Security Council this afternoon on the Second Report of the International Independent Investigation Commission into the 14 February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, Commissioner Detlev Mehlis answered correspondents’ questions during a press conference at Headquarters.


The International Independent Investigation Commission Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolutions 1595 and 1636 (2005) (UNIIIC) was established on 7 April to assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of the terrorist bombing in Beirut.  By resolution 1636 of 31 October, the Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, extended the Commission’s mandate until 15 December.  The Commission’s first report was submitted on 19 October (document S/2005/662).


Asked about a possible link between yesterday’s assassination of Gebran Tueni and the fact that he was a witness in the Hariri case, Mr. Mehlis noted that Mr. Tueni was one of many witnesses.  He could only speculate about a motive for the assassination, which, as a prosecutor, he preferred not to do, he said.  He was shocked at the news of the assassination, as he had interviewed the witness personally.  Responding to a related question whether that assassination was an indication that the investigation should go beyond the killing of Mr. Hariri, he said such a comprehensive investigation would require at least 100 more people.  The Commission did not have that kind of capacity.


Questions were also asked about the possible motives for the killing of Mr. Hariri, as the second report mentioned possible motives of fraud and money laundering, while the previous reports had only focused on the Syrian track.  Mr. Mehlis said that the Lebanese authorities were working on the Bank Al-Madina case, and the Commission hoped it could profit from their findings.  The Commission was not mandated to investigate that case and, moreover, that case should not be overemphasized.


Regarding the comments of the Syrian Permanent Representative that the Syrian suspects had not been treated according to international law, Mr. Mehlis said the Syrian authorities had been assured that Syrian suspects would be given the same rights as they had in their own country.  Moreover, they would be treated according to Lebanese law as stipulated in the Council resolution.  In addition, they had the right to have lawyers of their own choice present during interviews, and an interpreter was also present.  There had been no complaints at the time of the interviews.


Asked if the Syrian authorities were cooperating fully or only partially, he said Syria had started to give indications that they were willing to cooperate.  He was not seeing full cooperation yet, as that would imply timely cooperation.  It was too early to say whether Syria was in violation of resolution 1636.  The fact that he had mentioned a time frame of two years necessary to conclude the investigation referred to the way Syria was delaying in cooperating.  Normally, two years would not be necessary, and he hoped it would not come to two years.


Regarding the fact that interviews of two key witnesses had to be postponed, he said that he could not name them as the investigation was ongoing, but that whoever needed to be interviewed would be interviewed.  Even if he wanted to, he could not delete them from the list, as that would raise the possibility of criticism that the investigation was not complete.


Replying to a question on how many suspects were detained and whether they were Syrian or Lebanese, Mr. Mehlis said that not all suspects were on the same level and not all needed to be arrested.  The fact that somebody was treated as a suspect, with rights to a lawyer and the right to remain silent, did not imply that he would be put on trial.  One of the reasons he could not give more details lay in the fact that interim reports had to be submitted to the Council.  There were now 19 suspects.


Asked why Zuheir ibn Mohamed Said Saddik, a key witness who had been in French custody since 16 October, had not yet been interviewed, he said Mr. Saddik had been interviewed before his arrest in France.  The French and Lebanese authorities were now involved in an extradition process, which took time.  There was no immediate need to interview him again.  As to the fact that no traces of Mr. Saddik’s DNA had been found in the room he was supposed to have been in, he noted that the room had only been searched eight months after his supposed presence there.  That could mean many things, among them, that the room had been cleaned.


He could not discuss the credibility of another witness, Hussam Taher Hussam, who had recently withdrawn prior testimony during a press conference, Mr. Mehlis said.  The fact, however, that a witness admitted to be part of a conspiracy added to his credibility.  He added that retraction of a statement could only be done through the Commission.  The witness would be interviewed again.  There would also be an investigation as to whether he had been pressured.


Answering a question about the delay in an appointment of his successor, as it had been long known that he was going to leave on 15 December, he said it was not easy to find the right person.  However, he would be available on a transitional basis for as long as he was needed.  There would be no gap.  The question whether his successor would be able to move the investigation along more quickly implied that his own investigation had not been conducted quickly enough.  That was an unfair statement.  The investigation, which had started four months after the assassination, could not have been conducted more quickly or more efficiently.


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For information media • not an official record