Lebanon News

STL: Oneissi defense sets out argument for acquittal

BEIRUT: The defense team for Hussein Oneissi made their submissions Tuesday for the acquittal of their client, in what was a tense day at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, lead counsel on Oneissi’s defense team, sought to persuade the judges that there was insufficient evidence linking his client to the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in an attack that also killed 21 others, and that the evidence that had been presented by prosecution teams was flawed.

Defense teams are entitled to submit a judgment of acquittal upon the close of the prosecution’s case, which took place Feb. 7. They must successfully argue that there is insufficient evidence to convict their client, which would result in charges against the client being fully or partially cleared.

Courcelle-Labrousse attempted to argue that Oneissi could not be proved to be complicit in the assassination in its definition under Lebanese law, the standard in this case. “Lebanese law generally requires an accomplice to know of the crime committed,” he noted, arguing that, while Oneissi may have known he was involved in an illegal act, no evidence existed to show that he knew he was involved in the assassination of the prime minister.

Pressing Courcelle-Labrousse on this point later, Trial Chamber President Judge David Re asked if “recruit[ing] someone to make a false claim of responsibility after an attack cannot be part of the entire attack,” making the analogy that a getaway driver may be involved in a bank robbery without taking part in the actual robbing of the bank.

Courcelle-Labrousse was also highly critical of the prosecution’s reliance on cellphone evidence in its case, saying evidence against his client “relies on one person only, Mr. Gary Platt ... who apparently can read into telecoms data as if it were a crystal ball.” Platt was a regular prosecution expert witness who gave significant testimony regarding contentious cellphone records that made up the foundation of the prosecution’s case.

Courcelle-Labrousse further argued that the evidence against his client was not “hard” evidence, saying, “there are no prints, there are no phone taps, there are no photographs, there is no CCTV footage.”

The defense lawyer noted the 15 percent margin for error with cellphone evidence, though Judge Re countered that other forensic evidence could also have similar margins.

Re at one point called Courcelle-Labrousse out for not providing sufficiently detailed indexing in the bundles provided to the court, making it difficult for the chamber to follow the defense counsel’s arguments.

Courcelle-Labrousse responded: “I don’t want to be interrupted, your honor [but] you cannot interrupt a defense lawyer when making his submissions.” Re replied that he wanted to address several issues, “and I’m going to answer them as politely as I can. ... The court is entitled to interrupt any lawyer. I as the presiding judge have been elected to control the proceedings.”

The chief prosecutor, Norman Farrell, was also singled out by Courcelle-Labrousse, who complained about an article in L’Orient-Le Jour newspaper on Feb. 19 in which Farrell was quoted as saying that the evidence against the accused was “irrefutable.” Courcelle-Labrousse implied that Farrell’s failure to appear in person Tuesday at the Trial Chamber to hear his submissions was disrespectful, to which Re responded that few chief prosecutors in tribunals like the STL attended proceedings in person, normally having counsel speak on their behalf.

The Oneissi defense team will conclude their submissions Feb. 21.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 21, 2018, on page 2.




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