Asharq Al-Awsat, New York – Asharq Al Awsat exclusively interviews Detlev Mehlis, Head of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1595 into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.
FAKHRY: Let me start, firstly, by asking you about the reasons as to why you are leaving the Investigation Commission. Are you not concerned that it might portray the wrong image about where this investigation is headed?
MEHLIS: No. As I mentioned before, my leaving has nothing to do with the investigation which is running well. All of the investigators [will] stay. It is [for] professional and personal reasons. Also, this very strong security regime I have been subjected…
FAKHRY: Were you subjected to any real threats of any kind?
MEHLIS: Well, of course, it is a difficult situation so that is why some very strong security measures had been taken. I think if you have been subjected to those for seven months, then it is about time to, well, go back home.
FAKHRY: But you knew all along it that [the investigation] would take a long time. Therefore, why did you take up this assignment?
MEHLIS: I took up this assignment because Security Council resolution  mentioned 15 December  as a deadline, which it was, and it was also a deadline for me. I should add that maybe it is not just a disadvantage that I am leaving. It could also be an advantage because at some point for any investigation it can be very positive and profitable, to bring new ideas, to bring in new spirit. So, I would not see it all as negative. Besides, until a successor has been named I will be available. I will return to Beirut within the next days, so I would not be out of this world and the investigation will continue, of course.
FAKHRY: How do you characterize the investigation, at this point? Do you feel it has been derailed to a certain extent?
MEHLIS: No. What has happened is there were some parties –one party in particular- who have tried to derail it. However, is has not…
FAKHRY: Do you mean the witness Mr. Hossam Hossam?
MEHLIS: Yes, for example. Yes, and like someone asking for the report to be rewritten, this is very stupid. So, nothing has been derailed and we continue on the track. Although, some people would wish the investigation would [have been] derailed.
FAKHRY: Do you feel you are on the right track? Do you feel Syria is definitely behind this [Hariri’s] killing?
FAKHRY: The Syrian government?
MEHLIS: Well, let us say Syrian authorities.
FAKHRY: How high up [in the government] do you go?
MEHLIS: Well, that is speculation so I cannot comment on this.
FAKHRY: How do you characterize today Assef Shawkat and Maher Al Asad, who featured in your first report?
MEHLIS: Well, they are what they are.
FAKHRY: Are they suspects?
MEHLIS: We have not named them as suspects in the report.
FAKHRY: Will you be naming new people, or encouraging your successor to name new people as suspects?
MEHLIS: Well, first, we will have to evaluate these Vienna interviews and then we will work on that. Then we will see.
FAKHRY: Some have accused you of being too slow in re-interviewing some of the witnesses. Have you taken out all the necessary action to re-interview people like Hossam Hossam who recanted his testimony and Zuhair Al Siddiq, who went from being a witness to being a suspect?
MEHLIS: Well, we are… You know, it does not make sense to interview or re-interview or re-re-interview people for the sake of re-interviewing them. It has to make sense and whether people like it or not, an investigation like this just takes time. I am not sure that those who ask for re-interviews or for speeding up this investigation have ever carried out an investigation like this before. Therefore, just be patient and let justice take its course.
FAKHRY: You suggested recently that there might be a link between all these different killings. What makes you believe there is a link among them, and are they linked to the Hariri killing?
MEHLIS: Well, firstly, without having looked into these cases too accurately because we do not have the authority, the mandate, to do so, from the way they were carried out, it is quite obvious that there is a link of a sort. Of course, please understand that I cannot be too precise.
FAKHRY: But are there links between them and Hariri’s assassination?
MEHLIS: Between them, yes. Between them and Hariri’s [killing], I am not in a position to say so.
FAKHRY: I understand you have put together a hit list of targeted Lebanese politicians and journalists. How did you get this list?
MEHLIS: Well, I read reports in the papers a couple of months ago that there was a death list. I have never seen one. Witnesses mention it, but we were never able really to say [that] this is accurate information.
FAKHRY: But you told Gebran Tueni that his life was under threat. How did you get to that?
MEHLIS: We had witnesses coming up to us and repeating as witnesses this newspaper information. Therefore, out of accuracy, of course, we had to inform the Lebanese authorities of that.
FAKHRY: Do you believe that anyone who is interviewed by you is immediately, or ultimately, under threat?
FAKHRY: You do not see a link between their testimony before the Commission and the threats they may face.
MEHLIS: No, no, no. Mr. Tueni was a witness but he was not a decisive witness, so there is no indication that his horrible assassination is linked to him being a witness in our case.
FAKHRY: What made you keep alive the idea that fraud, corruption and money laundering might be motives [behind the assassination of Hariri]. Why have you not ruled them out?
MEHLIS: Well, because we are still investigating that point. The Bank Al Madina is a Lebanese case. We are still looking for clues, looking for links to our case. This is a huge Lebanese case and it just takes time. So we cannot confirm or rule out anything. The investigation is just ongoing.
FAKHRY: But would you not recommend there be a more active investigation [into the Al Madina case] by the Commission?
MEHLIS: No, I think it is going well. Just doing many things at the same time and becoming hectic does not help.
FAKHRY: In the six months that you have been dealing with this, given the opportunity, what would you do differently, if anything?
MEHLIS: Wonderful question. Nothing that comes to my mind.
Q: Did you feel that you gave it your best shot but were let down?
MEHLIS: No, no, no. There is no resignation, there is no pessimism. I do not have the feeling that we were being let down. I just think it is going the way it has to go.
FAKHRY: You are not walking away, are you?
MEHLIS: No, no. I am walking home, not away.
FAKHRY: So you are not giving the impression to the Lebanese that you are abandoning them in any way.
MEHLIS: I hope not, and if anyone does have this feeling, it is wrong, and it would even be a little unfair.
FAKHRY: You told the Security Council that you do not think the scope of the investigation should be expanded to include the recent killings. You have been quite skeptical about it. Why is that?
MEHLIS: Because I have no indication that by now the UN and the Commission is in a better position to investigate this assassination than the Lebanese authorities are. I think they have developed, they are capable of dealing with it, and they have done a great job in the past, so I do not see any specific reason why we should take over this investigation.
FAKHRY: But they have not made any arrests to date.
MEHLIS: Well, unfortunately, it happens in cases in like this. You cannot expect any police force in the world to catch people immediately. Again, as sad as it may sound, it requires patience and I think in the end the perpetrators will be identified, caught and brought to justice.
FAKHRY: When will we know the identities of the 19 suspects mentioned in your last report?
MEHLIS: When the investigation is over.
FAKHRY: When will it be over? In a year or two, as you have said it may take this long.
MEHLIS: It could be.
FAKHRY: So you will not release the names to anyone before then, not even the Security Council or its Sanctions Committee?
MEHLIS: I think we should not give any suspect party involved the hint, or hints, of where this investigation is going, what we know, and what we will do. Because this is the only thing that could really harm the investigation.