Lebanon News

Prosecution analyst examined by new defense team: STL

File - A view of a sign on the exterior of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, The Netherlands, January 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos)

BEIRUT: Defense counsel Dorothée Le Fraper du Hellen began her cross-examination of prosecution analyst Andrew Donaldson Monday, taking over questioning from the defense for Assad Sabra, David Young. Sabra and Hassan Merhi, whose interests are represented by Le Fraper du Hellen, are among the four accused of complicity in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Le Fraper du Hellen, like Young before her, questioned the attribution of cellphones attributed to Merhi by the prosecution. She supported her argument using both technical data involving the phones, as well as the content of SMS messages.

One of the phones attributed to Merhi, for instance, had received SMS messages from a phone used by a male taxi driver in Beirut. Some were written in language that suggested a potentially romantic relationship, including one described by President of the Trial Chamber Judge David Re as “poetic.” The defense argued this was a negative indicator that the phone belonged to Merhi.

Donaldson disagreed with the defense’s proposition. He didn’t rule out a possible romantic relationship but suggested that the defense’s conclusion that such language was out of the ordinary was a result of cultural differences. Donaldson cited as an example Mustafa Badreddine, who had been among the accused until his death in Syria last year; Badreddine had referred to male friends as “mamma” in SMS messages.

The defense subsequently presented a range of evidence designed to show that another cell attributed to Merhi, identified by the number 071, could easily be attributed elsewhere. Le Fraper du Hellen presented call sequence tables and geolocation maps that showed 071 being used at similar times and places to a number of other phones.

With each separate phone, the defense counsel suggested that it was not impossible it could have been used by 071, which would indicate that the user of 071 was not Merhi. In each case Donaldson agreed that such a possibility could not be ruled out, but he argued that most of these would be coincidences: “If you have one colocation, does that make it a positive case? No. Does it mean you can’t rule them out? Yes.”

He was impressed by one of Le Fraper du Hellen’s suggestions, where he noted a number of “interesting coincidences,” which included a very low number of contacts and good evidence linking it geographically to the 071 number. He stated that he “would certainly put this forward for further investigation.” Ultimately, however, he stuck to his conclusion that Merhi was the user of 071 based on the “totality of the evidence.”

The defense also attempted to criticize the prosecution investigation’s methods. Le Fraper du Hellen argued that the prosecution should have tested the reliability of the evidence used by the prosecution investigators in their reports. Donaldson conceded that he had “not completed a single interview with regards to this investigation,” but pointed out that his primary method of testing the reliability of evidence was to corroborate it with another independent source.

Le Fraper du Hellen anticipated that she would complete her cross-examination Tuesday, after which the defense for Salim Ayyash, another of the accused, would begin its cross-examination.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2017, on page 2.




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