Saniora before STL: Hariri Sought Extension of Hrawi’s Term to Avoid Lahoud’s Election

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Saniora before STL: Hariri Sought Extension of Hrawi’s Term to Avoid Lahoud’s Election
Naharnet/26.03.15/

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s Defense team continued on Thursday its cross-examination of head of the Mustaqbal bloc MP Fouad Saniora, with questions focusing on United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 and former Premier Rafik Hariri’s ties with ex-President Emile Lahoud.

Saniora said: “Hariri fought hard to ensure that the term of later President Elias Hrawi was extended in 1995 in order to avoid the election of Emile Lahoud as president.”“Hariri exerted all possible democratic efforts to extend Hrawi’s term,” he revealed.“Given the choice between Hrawi and Lahoud, Hariri opted for the former,” Saniora added. “Lahoud was probably a bit bitter about this when he came to power in 1998 and it may have been one of the reasons why he did not get along well with Hariri,” remarked the MP before the court.

“But on the first day that Lahoud came to office, raids and rumors about targeting pro-Hariri figures began to circulate in Lebanon and I was one of these targets,” he noted. “Lahoud, as a president, should have worked on bringing the Lebanese people together, but he didn’t and this was reflected on the social, economic, security, and financial situation on the ground,” he said.

“A president of a republic should embrace all sides,” he stated. Asked by the Defense whether Hariri had an issue with Lahoud on a personal level, Saniora replied: “The two officials shared different mentalities and approaches on how to govern the country and so it was hard for them to get along.” “Hariri tried all means to overcome differences with Lahoud, but to no avail,” he revealed. Ties between Hariri and Lahoud became even more strained in 2004 when the Syrian regime pushed for the extension of his term. On whether the extension of Lahoud’s term and the issuing of resolution 1559 were linked, Saniora noted: “The extension may have been a factor, but other matters came into play in the resolution.”

Earlier during the testimony, the MP emphasized that Hariri did not have a hand in devising the resolution. “Even though he did have strong relations with foreign powers, Hariri could not have swayed all 15 members of the Security Council to vote for the resolution,” he remarked. In the afternoon, Saniora answered the questions of the Defense on Solidere – a joint-stock company that was in charge of reconstructing Beirut’s central district after the civil war – the four generals who were arrested after Hariri’s murder, and details about the bombing. Saniora noted that “out of $1.8 billion in investments in Solidere, Hariri had only 120 million dollars, which is equivalent to 6.5-7%.”

He also reiterated that “orders were given to fill the crater created by the explosion on February 14, 2005 and to remove all the (destroyed) vehicles.”“This is what was later confirmed through investigations,” he pointed out. Saniora also revealed that he was told personally by U.N. investigator Peter Fitzgerald that the crime scene was “tampered with.” Fitzgerald is the author of the report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Lebanon that inquired into “the causes, circumstances and consequences of the assassination” of Hariri. After arriving in Beirut February 25, 2005, the mission interviewed Lebanese officials and politicians, examined the Lebanese investigation and legal proceedings, inspected the crime scene and collected evidence. It also interviewed witnesses.

Pressed by the Defense for a second time, Saniora firmly responded that he did not discuss the arrest of the four generals with the then U.S. ambassador to Lebanon or any other ambassador because he was “keen on Lebanon’s sovereignty.”The so-called Four Generals were at the time of the assassination in charge of Lebanon’s General Security, Internal Security Forces, army intelligence directorate, and Republican Guard. They were detained from 2005 until 2009 for their suspected connection to the Hariri assassination. They were later released over lack of evidence. The cross-examination involved an objection by the Prosecution against the Defense’s use of a WikiLeaks cable alleging that then-Justice Minister Charles Rizk was pressured by U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Feltman to release the generals in order to speed up the work of the STL.

Saniora for his part denied the claims, stressing that they were totally baseless. Concluding his testimony before the tribunal, the ex-PM said he was “honored” to appear before the court. “I’m honored to have appeared before this court, because it gave me the chance to say the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in order to reveal what I know about ex-PM Hariri and what he did to defend Lebanon and end its subjugation to the Syrian regime, as well as what he did against the Israeli attacks,” Saniora said. “I put myself at the disposal of the tribunal, and whenever you see that there is a need, I’m ready to participate and to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” he added.

Accordingly, Presiding Judge David Re adjourned the trial to April 9. The court will hear other witnesses on that day while Saniora is expected to testify before the tribunal again in late April. The STL is tackling the assassination of Hariri in a major bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005. It has so far indicted five Hizbullah members in the crime. It kicked off its trial in 2014 and has so far listened to the testimonies of several witnesses. Testimonies in 2015 have been focusing on the political aspect of the assassination and Hariri’s ties with Syria. A number of lawmakers and journalists have given their accounts on the matter.