Lebanon News

STL: Prosecution responds to submission for acquittal

BEIRUT: Lead counsel for the prosecution, Alexander Milne, argued that there was sufficient evidence implicating Hassan Oneissi in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri for them not to consider his acquittal during Wednesday’s hearing of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Milne took approximately two hours to respond to the submissions made by Oneissi’s lawyer, Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse.

While much of Courcelle-Labrousse’s submissions, which finished Wednesday morning, had criticized the quality of the evidence provided by the prosecution implicating his client in the assassination, which also killed 21 others, Milne responded that it was not for the Trial Chamber to assess how they should weight the evidence at this midway point in the trial.

“You cannot say there is no evidence,” Milne argued, “and you must say therefore that there is a case to answer.”

President of the Trial Chamber Judge David Re queried whether Courcelle-Labrousse had given a sufficiently convincing argument for acquittal. “The onus is on you to demonstrate that there is insufficient evidence for the prosecution to make a prima facie [accepted as correct until proved otherwise] case,” he said. “If you’re making an application for acquittal, you have to explain to us ... why we should prefer your version that the prosecutor hasn’t produced sufficient evidence.”

Milne, citing a judgment from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, noted that, “the chamber does not assess the credibility and reliability of the evidence unless the prosecution case ‘has completely broken down.’”

Courcelle-Labrousse nevertheless argued that at this stage the burden of proof still very much lay with the prosecutor. The chamber disputed some of his specific arguments, such as the defense lawyer’s suggestion that, “it’s up to the prosecutor to bring the evidence that the accomplice knew exactly [what he was involved in].” He complained that the prosecution would “never reply what particular time Oneissi was made knowledgeable of this particular crime.”

“The precise date upon which the conspiracy was first hatched is of no particular relevance,” Milne responded, “provided the trial chamber can be persuaded ... that there is some evidence that Mr. Oneissi joined that conspiracy.”

Milne also rejected the defense’s suggestion that the prosecution case rested solely on prosecution witness Gary Platt, who provided significant evidence on telecoms data: “His rhetoric about Mr. Platt inventing stories we submit is misplaced. ... it seems the prosecution star witness as nominated by the defense depends on who they want to knock down.” Milne noted: “Telephone coverage maps are one piece in the jigsaw puzzle.”

Courcelle-Labrousse also argued that his client would have needed to have known the identity of his victims in order to shoulder criminal responsibility for complicity. Milne answered that, “regardless of the identity of the individual, he had done everything with a view to killing,” thereby making him guilty of complicity in the various murders.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 22, 2018, on page 3.

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