Fugitive Iraqi vice president’s lawyers quit unfair trial

Updated 21 May 2012
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Fugitive Iraqi vice president’s lawyers quit unfair trial

BAGHDAD: Lawyers for Iraq’s fugitive vice president charged with running death squads that targeted Shiite officials and civilians quit the case yesterday in protest after judges would not let them present evidence at the trial.
Tariq Al-Hashemi’s defense team demanded to be allowed to pull phone records and appointment calendars to help refute earlier testimony that the vice president and his son-in-law had ordered bodyguards to kill security forces and government officials.
Lawyer Muayad Obeid Al-Ezzi said the records could prove that Al-Hashemi, one of Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunni officials in the Shiite-led government, had either been out of the country or not in communication with the bodyguards at the time he allegedly ordered the assassinations.
But a three-judge panel rejected the request, and ruled that last week’s testimony by three bodyguards who swore they were given money to kill Al-Hashemi’s enemies was strong enough to negate any further evidence.
The judges also said Al-Hashemi could have arranged for the attacks while he was outside the country.
With that, Al-Ezzi and the rest of the defense team walked out.
“We decided to give up the case after the court ignored our demands,” Al-Ezzi said over the telephone after leaving the courtroom. “We do not want to be part of this unfair trial.”
For months, Al-Hashemi has claimed he will not get a fair trial on the terror charges, which he denies and calls politically motivated. He is in Istanbul and has refused to defend himself in Baghdad’s criminal court.
The case threatens to paralyze Iraq’s government by fueling simmering Sunni and Kurdish resentments against the Shiite prime minister, who critics claim is monopolizing power.
It also has strained relations between Iraq and several of its mainly Sunni neighbors, including the Gulf states and Turkey.
Last week, three of Al-Hashemi’s former bodyguards testified that they were ordered and paid to kill security officials and plant roadside bombs. They said the orders either came from Al-Hashemi’s son-in-law, who worked as his office manager, or from the vice president himself.
In an Associated Press interview a few days later, Al-Hashemi said he believes his bodyguards were pressured into testifying, and hinted then he would withdraw his defense in the trial that he claims amounts to a legal railroading.
If convicted, Al-Hashemi could face the death penalty. Judges on Sunday appointed two new lawyers for Al-Hashemi and his son-in-law.
Al-Ezzi said his defense team was willing to return to court — but only of the evidence is allowed and the judges agree to transfer the case to a special tribunal appointed by Parliament.


Lebanon to review move to let Iranians in without passport stamps: Source

Updated 3 min 46 sec ago
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Lebanon to review move to let Iranians in without passport stamps: Source

BEIRUT: Lebanese ministers will review a security agency’s decision to allow Iranians to enter at the airport without having their passports stamped, an interior ministry source said on Tuesday.
The move by the General Security agency has sparked an outcry from some politicians who fear it reflects the deepening influence of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which emerged from a recent parliamentary vote with more sway.
The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, described the change as an attempt to help Iran send more forces to Syria through Beirut or move money to Hezbollah despite US sanctions.
The agency, which oversees airport security, has defended its decision and said entry cards will be stamped instead.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA, reporting on the new measure this week, said some Iranians who had traveled to Lebanon had faced difficulty obtaining European visas.
The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist group and has tightened sanctions against those accused of doing business with it. The European Union classifies Hezbollah’s military wing as terrorist. Tehran and Shiite Hezbollah provide critical support to the Syrian army in the seven-year conflict next door.
Caretaker Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, returning from a trip abroad, will meet Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri and other officials on Wednesday to discuss the passport move and determine whether or not to nullify it, the source told Reuters.
Machnouk retweeted an article on Monday in local daily Al-Nahar that cited ministry sources as saying he would challenge the measure.
Major General Abbas Ibrahim, who heads General Security, defended the step as a normal procedure.
“Unfortunately, some in Lebanon have a wide imagination,” he said in remarks to local daily Al-Joumhouria.
A database automatically registers all Iranian arrivals and departures, said Ibrahim, a Shiite official who has coordinated with Hezbollah and its political ally the Amal party.
He added that many European and Gulf countries refrained from stamping passports and that introducing new technology at Beirut airport would eventually eliminate the need for stamps.
A lawmaker with the Lebanese Forces, which nearly doubled its seats in parliament in the election, said he believed the interior ministry would cancel the new measure.
“This does not need discussion,” Wehbe Katicha told Reuters. “A director general made an administrative decision, when it should be a political one. It’s a mistake.”