|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY HEAD OF COMMISSION INVESTIGATING RAFIQ HARIRI ASSASSINATION
The head of the International Independent Investigation Commission charged with investigating the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 other people confirmed this afternoon that a star witness in the case had disappeared and that his whereabouts were unknown.
During a Headquarters press conference, Commissioner David Bellemare said he did not know the whereabouts of Mohammed Zuheir as-Sadiq, who had been jailed in France, banned from leaving that country and also interviewed by the Commission. “He never replied to the Commission to be entered into the witness protection programme. He is not in our custody and I don’t know where he is,” Mr. Bellemare said. He declined to comment on the disappearance’s impact on the investigation, saying that it would have to be assessed.
Mr. Bellemare, who assumed his post in January, also would not comment on what one of his predecessors, Detlev Mehlis, may have said or done regarding the circumstances behind Mr. Mehlis’ decision to ask Lebanese authorities in 2005 to arrest four pro-Syrian Lebanese intelligence generals suspected of involvement in the assassination, all of whom remain in jail without an indictment. He said he had not yet been to Syria, nor had he ever spoken to Mr. Mehlis. The decision to detain the Lebanese suspects had been made by Lebanese judicial authorities. Further, Mr. Bellemare said he had discussed the matter with Lebanon’s Prosecutor General, but that he could not disclose the content of those talks.
Speaking to correspondents after meeting with the Security Council about the Hariri investigation, Mr. Bellemare stressed the importance and difficulty of informing the public and the press about the case, while maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of the investigation process. He said the Commission’s mandate, to expire on 15 June, should be extended for six months.
After that, the Commission’s mandate would be handed over to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Once established, Mr. Bellemare would be that Tribunal’s Prosecutor.
Responding to a correspondent’s question about the potential conflict of interest of him having two roles -- as police officer and then Prosecutor -- Mr. Bellemare stressed the importance of continuity in the investigative process. “Because I will now wear the Prosecutor’s hat, I look at the evidence with a view also to preparing the legal case that will be before the Tribunal. I’m focusing on the admissibility of the evidence and I’m slowly building that case.” He said the process involved checks and balances, whereby he would not be the final arbiter. Rather, he would prepare a draft indictment and a pretrial judge would determine whether sufficient evidence existed to allow the indictment to be filed.
As to whether the “Hariri network” of individuals that had acted in concert to assassinate the former Lebanese Prime Minister included a foreign sovereign State other than Lebanon, Mr. Bellemare said he could not release any more information than what was listed in his report presented today to the Council. “The difference is the fact that now we have evidence, as opposed to previously it was a working hypothesis,” he said, describing that evidence as “very credible”.
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