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Mehlis Report: The Money Trail | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When the Head of the Security Council mandated Commission established to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2004 took up his high profile position, it apparently took only a few weeks for the German Prosecutor to privilege the &#34Syrian Track&#34 and to conclude that &#34the likely motive of the assassination was political&#34. Evidently, not much investigatory effort is required to come to that conclusion whenever a sophisticated and spectacular operation is mounted to blow up the entire motorcade of a well protected political figure. In this respect, the assassination of Hariri could not but be &#34political&#34. To privilege the &#34Syrian track&#34, which was widely interpreted as meaning that the assassination was ordered by the Syrian Government, was also logical considering the prevailing extreme political polarization and tensions that existed in Lebanon. Hence, the involvement of the Security Council in the case was indeed predicated on the necessary involvement of Damascus. But, as for any investigation, all leads and all possible motives are to be pursued, including the guiding principle of ”who benefits from the crime”.

Mehlis did mention in his initial report released on 20 October that &#34the likely motive of the assassination was political&#34 and added in a cursory manner &#34However, since the crime was not the work of individuals but rather of a sophisticated group, it very much seems that fraud, corruption and money-laundering could also have been motives for individuals to participate in the operation.&#34 But this line of investigation which Mehlis did not rule out by last October was not, in all evidence, pursued. In his latest report, however, Mehlis refers specifically to the collapse of the Bank Al-Madina in mid 2003 and informs that &#34the Commission had received information that Mr. Hariri had declared that he would take measures to investigate the Bank scandal more thoroughly if he returned to power&#34. We have learned the hard way that, alas, he will not.

The collapse of the Bank Al-Madina is too small of a matter to have made news in New York, let alone in the Security Council. But it is for Lebanon what the collapse of the mammoth worldwide Bank of Credit and Commerce International –convicted in the United States of money laundering in 1990– was for the international financial world back in 1991 and whose history has not yet been written: since last January, the Bank of England is in the dock, accused of lying to the British Government for nearly 20 years over the notorious collapse BCCI.

When the stakes are very high, everything becomes &#34political&#34. And with over a billion dollars of depositor”s assets having disappeared in the case of Al-Madina”s bankruptcy, the stakes are indeed very high. It is thus difficult to follow the line of reasoning of Mehlis who, while not ruling out that the Al-Madina scandal may shed light on the motives of individuals associated with Hariri”s assassination, told me and other journalists that &#34We don”t have the capacity nor the mandate to investigate the Al-Madina case. This Al-Madina issue should not be overemphasized. It could be a part of this conspiracy for some people…But I still think it is a political case&#34. That the Commission he has led and which he will soon be handing over to a yet-to-be appointed successor does not have the &#34capacity&#34 may very well be the case, but that he does not have a mandate to explore aggressively leads that the Al-Madina case could help identify the assassins of Hariri and expose their motives, is surprising. All the more so that the names of powerful individuals, including high-powered Lebanese and Syrians –some holding or having held official positions– have been mentioned in the context of the Mehlis probe and of the Al-Madina inquiry being conducted by the Lebanese authorities.

Quite often, the money trail is the successful one, and once the sums are large enough, it moves from the realm of the &#34criminal&#34 to that of the &#34political&#34. And if Hariri”s pledge that he would investigate thoroughly the Al-Madina scandal once he returns to power is indeed accurate, it is difficult not to consider that, by itself, it did not constitute a powerful motive for those involved in the bank”s scandal to prevent Hariri, once and for all, from following the money trail.