Lead UN investigator into Hariri killing received death threats

German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, the leader of the UN team investigating last year’s assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, received threats on his life, Arabian Business can reveal.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  January 8, 2006

German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, the leader of the UN team investigating last year’s assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, received threats on his life, Arabian Business can reveal. An official spokesperson for the UN commission confirmed that security was stepped up around Mehlis during the probe, which implicated Lebanese and Syrian security officials in the killing of Hariri on February 14, 2005. Mehlis stepped down from his post on December 15, shortly after completing his six-month mandate and delivering his second report on the assassination. Asked whether Mehlis was personally threatened, an official spokesperson for the UN commission said: “Yes there were threats against him. There were threats and this is why security around him was very, very, very tight.” Citing personal reasons, Mehlis declined an extension to his mandate and said he wanted to return to his job in Berlin, but that he would be available should the UN investigating team require his help. The UN spokesperson told Arabian Business that Serge Brammertz, a Belgian prosecutor with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, is likely to be announced as Mehlis' successor this week, pending approval from member states that elected him to his post. As deputy prosecutor of the ICC, Brammertz is in charge of the Investigations Division of the Office of the Prosecutor. “The secretary general will announce this. Mr. Serge Brammertz is an elected official of the international criminal court," said the spokesperson. “He was not appointed. He was elected for six years so the state parties to the convention, which established the international criminal court, they have to agree to second him for let's say six months. The secretary general will get an answer back from the president of the court and as soon as he has, then he will make an announcement." The new revelations about threats against Mehlis come days after Syria’s former vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam gave an explosive interview in which he accused Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and other government officials of threatening Hariri in the run up to the assassination. Khaddam admitted that he advised Hariri to step down and leave Lebanon because the atmosphere in the country had become electrified and his security personnel had been reduced on orders of Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, a Syrian loyalist. “But it never occurred to me that Syria would assassinate premier Hariri,” Khaddam remarked. “Yes, many threats were directed face-to-face to the late premier Hariri,” he added. Khaddam also said that the Syrian president had told him he had warned Hariri. “Assad told me he had delivered some very, very harsh words to Hariri... something like ‘I will crush anyone who tries to disobey us’.” The testimony of Khaddam has been deemed as highly damaging to Damascus and has prompted the UN commission to request an interview with the Syrian president and foreign minister, as well as other officials. This is the second attempt by the commission to secure such an interview. The first request was denied, implied the UN spokesperson. “The commission had already made a request to interview the [Syrian] president and the foreign minister, among others. I cannot tell you when exactly when we made the request,” said the spokesperson, adding, “Right now, as far as I know, we have no response yet.” When asked what drove the commission to ask for an interview with the Syrian president and the foreign minister, the spokesperson said: “Mr. Abdel Halim Khaddam, in his interview on TV, corroborated information the commission already had from other sources and which we have already included in our two reports…. We will seek to interview Mr. Abdel Halim Khaddam as soon as possible.” The commission has not interviewed Mr. Khaddam before, the spokesperson added. The spokesperson would not comment on whether or not the commission will seek to interview Asef Shawkat, the brother in law of Assad; or Jama Jama, the deputy of Rustom Ghazaleh, who is the Lieutenant General and Syria’s viceroy in Lebanon and was implicated as a suspect by Mehlis in the killing of Hariri. Days after Khaddam’s interview aired on Al-Arabiya, pictures of Husam Taher Husam, the so-called ‘masked’ witness of the Mehlis report, who subsequently recanted his testimony publicly on Syrian television, surfaced, placing him at the assassination site of George Hawi, the head of the Communist Party in Lebanon. The pictures, which were supplied to Arabian Business by the photographer Wael Ladki, show Husam in the background as Hawi’s friends and family members grieve over his death. The UN spokesperson declined to comment if the commission would be seeking to interview Husam again. The new evidence is likely to be of interest to the investigating team however.

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