Dateline interviewsthe Australian policeman embroiled in controversy over thecomplex murder caseof former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
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Sunday, October 2, 2011 - 20:32
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When former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005, it rocked the whole of the Middle East.

He was seen as a transforming figure after years of civil war, and wasn't scared to take on the powerful forces seeking to control his country.

But attempts to track down his killers have led investigators on a difficult and deadly journey.

Now, Dateline's Yaara Bou Melhem has a rare interview with the top Australian policeman brought in to help solve the case.

The Deputy Commissioner of New South Wales Police, Nick Kaldas, lays the blame with Hezbollah, but attempts to try four of its members have so far failed, plunging Kaldas and the UN-backed murder tribunal into an international political controversy.

So what next for such a significant criminal case? And will its outcome destabilise Lebanon once again?

WATCH - Click to see Yaara's report.

BIOGRAPHY - Find out more about Rafic Hariri's life, politics, and death.

RADIO INTERVIEW - Yaara talks to SBS Radio's World News Australia and gives more background to Nick Kaldas and his role in the investigation.

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Photos: Getty


Biography

Rafic Hariri was born in 1944 and was the eldest of three children in a poor Sunni Muslim family.

He grew up and was educated in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon, before studying commerce at the Arab University of Beirut.

Hariri moved to Saudi Arabia in 1965, working as a teacher and accountant, before starting his own construction company. He earnt a fortune, which ultimately saw him appear in the Forbes list of the richest men in the world.

It was in Saudi Arabia that he married Nazik Audeh Hariri and the couple started their family of seven children.

Politics

But his involvement with Lebanon continued and he played a behind the scenes role mediating and advising over ceasefires and agreements to end the civil war.

In 1989, he helped bring about the Taef Agreement, which laid down the plan for reconciliation and the constitution of the new Lebanon.

It paved the way for his return to the country as Prime Minister in 1992, where he was seen as a transforming figure after 15 years of conflict.

He championed the physical rebuilding of wartorn Beirut, as well as the political and financial rebuilding of Lebanon.

But he was not without controversy and faced criticism for leaving the country with huge debts from the cost of rebuilding.

Hariri held office from 1992 to 1998, and again from 2000 until his resignation in 2004 as a protest against his pro-Syrian government colleagues.

Death

A year later, he was killed by a car bomb in Beirut, leaving Lebanon in new political turmoil.

As Yaara Bou Melham reports for Dateline, the investigation into his death has been long and controversial.

At first, the finger of blame was pointed at Lebanon’s neighbour and occupier, Syria, and international outrage ultimately forced it to withdraw its forces.

In 2009, a powerful Special Tribunal was appointed by the UN Security Council, but its quest to try four members of the powerful Hezbollah political party for the murder has so far failed.

Rafic Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri, also entered politics and was Prime Minister from 2009 until the government’s collapse in January 2011. The current government, formed in June 2011, is dominated by Hezbollah supporters.


Sources: BBC/Rafic Hariri’s website


Resources

Transcript

When former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated in Beirut in 2005, his death rocked Lebanon and sparked international outrage. Now four suspects have been indicted over his murder and a top Australian cop, Nick Kaldas, seconded from the NSW Police Force to investigate the case, has become embroiled in controversy. As Yaara Bou Melhem reports, his push for justice in the Hariri killing is causing waves that threaten to over run Lebanon.

REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melhem

As a convoy took Rafic Hariri along this route in downtown Beirut, none of his heavily armed bodyguards realised they were travelling behind a vehicle packed with explosives. And then this - his assassination created carnage. 22 other people were killed and scores injured.

This, the precise spot where the bomb exploded, the force of the blast was concentrated by these two building which still bear the marks of the explosion. According to tribunal investigators it wasn't a rocket or a bomb placed underground that created a crater five metres deep, but 2,500kg of TNT. Bringing Hariri's killers to justice has pitched this senior Australian police officer into a multinational intrigue.

REPORTER: Was there a sense while you were there that it was all too hard politically?

NICK KALDAS, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER NSW POLICE FORCE: I think we always knew it was going to be a difficult road for the authorities to deliver those who were sought by the tribunal.

Now one of the most powerful figures in the Arab world, fiery Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, is calling Kaldas a stooge for Israel and the CIA.

NICK KALDAS: They're very, very hurtful damaging allegations. No evidence whatsoever has been put up by him.

At first Lebanon's long-time neighbour and occupier, Syria was blamed for the killing. Huge demonstrations in Beirut backed by international outrage saw it booted out. Then in 2009, after years of ineffective investigation, the UN Security Council formed a powerful Special Tribunal.

WOMAN: It is critical that the people of Lebanon see that this tribunal is an independent and impartial institution.

Kaldas spent 12 months leading the hunt for Hariri's killers.

NICK KALDAS: I think there was an awareness that what we were doing was going to be controversial and that it may have caused strife in Lebanon. Ultimately it went along this route here.

Now he's accusing Hezbollah, the so-called Party of God Lebanon's most powerful political player.

NICK KALDAS: You do get to a point in an investigation where you're satisfied that a person or group or individuals are responsible for the murder, you do need to eliminate all the other possibilities and I think that happened in this case. But then you have to focus and become committed to the direction in which you're heading. You need to pursue it to the nth degree, hopefully to prove it.

REPORTER: And that direction was Hezbollah?

NICK KALDAS: Ultimately that's where we ended up. Yes.

Six years after the assassination - finally some arrest warrants. Two of Hezbollah's most senior operatives - Mustafa Badreddine and Salim Jamil Ayyash have been indicted for the murder, along with two other members. But Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah says he will never deliver the men to the Special Tribunal.

SHEIKH HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH LEADER (Translation): Not in 30 days or 60 days or one year or two years or 30 years or 300 years, will they be able to find or arrest or detain them.

MICHAEL YOUNG, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Hezbollah has always marketed itself as a national resistance to Israel and as well as to the US.

Michael Young is an author and journalist with a Lebanese English-language newspaper, the Daily Star. He's following the case closely.

MICHAEL YOUNG: Hezbollah is armed. It's probably stronger than the Lebanese army. It's certainly more cohesive as a force. It's basically a state within a state in many respects and that's why it's extremely difficult today for an ideal Lebanese state to impose its will on Hezbollah.

Sheikh Nasrallah's image is everywhere in South Beirut. It's from here that Hezbollah effectively controls Lebanon. Going after the movement was never going to be easy. But investigator Nick Kaldas says he had to put politics aside.

NICK KALDAS: We simply saw it as a murder and we tried to approach it as a murder investigation. We certainly didn't see it as a political exercise.

MICHAEL YOUNG: This was a political crime. This was not a robbery or a simple murder. This was a political crime from the outset. Identifying the guilty was necessarily going to have profoundly political implications.

And nothing is at it seems in Lebanon when it comes to politics. The UN was stepping into a political minefield. The investigation has been mired in controversy since it began in 2005. Its biggest bungle was the arrest of this man, Mustafa Hamdan one of Lebanon's highest ranking security generals - along with three other generals.

MUSTAFA HAMDAN, SECURITY GENERAL (Translation): How did I end up being kidnapped by the UN for four years? No one knows. Tell us how.

When Kaldas took over the hunt for Hariri's killers in 2009, the first thing he did was set them free.

NICK KALDAS: We had to decide whether there was any evidence to justify their continued detention and there clearly wasn't. So the best thing we could do was announce that fact as quickly as possible and have the men released.

REPORTER: How controversial was that?

NICK KALDAS: Very controversial, and it made the front page obviously. If you were politically inclined you could say that this was an anti-Hariri development, and that's why I say our reinvestigation of the evidence against those four generals... the fact that we undertook that investigation as quickly and thoroughly and professionally as we did and announced a result as we did. I think shows quite clearly that there wasn't no political interference in the investigation.

But General Hamdan isn't about to forgive and forget.

MUSTAFA HAMDAN (Translation): There's no need for Mr Kaldas to claim favours, it wasn't him who released me or who found out I wasn't involved. Kaldas, as head of the tribunal, you came to find Hariri's killer. You took the money and you left. What did you do during this year?

Hezbollah declined several Dateline requests for an interview. But Hassan Illeik, a journalist from a Hezbollah affiliated newspaper, 'Al Akhbar', was more forthcoming. And he's gunning for Kaldas.

HASSAN ILLEIK, JOURNALIST (Translation): With all respect to Kaldas, he doesn't know Lebanon. He's of Egyptian origin - he worked in Iraq with the occupation forces. He knows the area but he doesn't know Lebanon, or Hezbollah. He doesn't know what this body did, or what this organisation did, other than the information he gets from the media.

NICK KALDAS: There are media outlets who are supportive of Hezbollah who attacked me for going in the first place and then once I announced my resignation and returned to Sydney, attacked me for leaving. It doesn't make any sense but a lot of things don't make sense I guess in that part of the world in politics.

This memorial to Rafic Hariri stands in the centre of Beirut, a constant reminder of his devastating assassination and Lebanon's obligation to find his killers. The country has poured millions of dollars into the international investigation. And for those who believe the bulk of the work has been done by local officers, Nick Kaldas is a symbol of money wasted.

HASSAN ILLEIK (Translation): This man built his work on the blood and sweat of the Lebanese - on the blood and sweat of Lebanese officers. He did not do anything of value - in short.

And this is the man Kaldas readily acknowledges played a vital role in cracking the case. A young Lebanese officer, named Wissam Eid. Eid began analysing phone records before and after the Hariri assassination. He found what the Tribunal calls the Red assassination network and the Green network involved in coordinating the hit. The phone networks led investigators to the alleged killers.

NICK KALDAS: And that's what you look for, people who may have been activated or phones that may have been activated, in contact with each other in the lead up to the assassination, perhaps at the time of the assassination and immediately afterwards. That shows a pattern of coordination and a level of co-ordination between those phones.

The UN investigation had been criticised for largely ignoring Eid's work, even losing his report, but Kaldas says he seized on it.

NICK KALDAS: Absolutely indispensable in taking the work forward. I think Wissam Eid was someone - and I didn't get to meet him, I don't know him, but from everything I've heard he was someone who knew what was right or wrong and despite the real danger to himself and those around him, he still proceeded because he felt that was the right thing to do.

In January 2008 Wissam Eid suffered the same fate as Rafic Hariri - blown to pieces by a car bomb.

NICK KALDAS: But I think Wisam Eid himself was a hero.

Hero to the Tribunal and martyr to his community - Wissam Eid is celebrated in his hometown near Tripoli in northern Lebanon.

REPORTER (Translation): What did you feel when your son was assassinated?

MR EID, WISSAM'S FATHER (Translation): What am I going to feel. You're saying my son and assassinated. What do I feel? Heartbreak, sadness and suffering over losing my son.

MRS EID, WISSAM'S MOTHER (Translation): What am I to think. God have mercy on him. Instead of living out his life and seeing him get married they put him in a coffin. I didn't even see him when he died. They don't let you see anything. It wasn't possible, nothing was left of him.

NICK KALDAS: Make no mistake those who committed the asassination of Wissam Eid did so to send a message to the tribunal the commission as it was and that is to back off and stop the investigation.

Wissam Eid's death became a symbol of Lebanon's so-called culture of impunity - killers could seemingly strike at will. The nation mourned his death and the Tribunal drew an even tighter cloak around his work or so they thought.

This is Wissam Eid's office, where much of his ground breaking work was done. But this inner sanctum has been breached many times. His work comprehensively leaked to Hezbollah and Beirut journalists including Hassan Illeik from the 'Al Akhbar' newspaper.

HASSAN ILLEIK: One witness that the tribunal will rely on.

REPORTER: You also have information about the witnesses?

He showed me a number of documents from Lebanese intelligence relating to the Hariri investigation, including this, handwritten by Wissam Eid in January 2006, it includes the mobile phone numbers of the accused. Hassan Illiek also has numerous files relating to other high-profile killings linked to the Hariri murders.

REPORTER: Has the case been compromised?

NICK KALDAS: It's unfortunate that perhaps some previous staff members or someone with a grievance has sought to leak some aspect of the investigation. It's human nature and that happens, it's disappointing, but the bottom line is - I don't think it's had an impact on the investigation or the integrity of the investigation. The evidence is what it is.

REPORTER: Is there some sort of protection afforded to witnesses at the moment?

NICK KALDAS: There is protection available and I'm certain that the prosecutor in particular and the office of the prosecutor will do everything they can to protect witnesses.

Not only has the information been leaked. Hezbollah is mounting a full scale counter attack. At this Hezbollah press conference, telecommunication experts dismissed the Tribunal's evidence of phone networks allegedly used in the Hariri killing.

DIANA BOU-GHANEM, MINISTRY OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS (Translation): So when you get the owner's number, you act on his behalf. You can make calls and establish new services as if you were that person. All this means that I can impersonate someone else and act on that person's behalf, as if I were that person. This is what they call it cyber crime, identity theft.

According to Hezbollah, Israel has compromised the Lebanese phone system.

MAN (Translation): The enemy's infiltration of the communication sector made the communication data worthless.

But Nick Kaldas doesn't accept the tampering theory.

NICK KALDAS: No, no I don't. The place to have that discussion and any allegations or answers in relation to anything being manipulated is the courtroom, a properly constructed trial with evidence being given and witnesses testifying and being cross-examined. It's easy to stand up on a podium and make really spurious, unprovable allegations when you are not being cross-examined on them. It's very easy to throw out these scurrilous allegations and I think it's cowardly in many ways.

Sheikh Nasrallah continues his campaign against Kaldas. This press conference included a video.

VIDEO:

VOICE OVER (Translation): Name, Naguib Nick Kaldas.- Nationality, Australian of Egyptian origin.- Officer in the Australian Police. - American connection, he has a connection with the American Central Intelligence Agency, CIA. - He worked in Iraq in 2004 to develop an intelligence apparatus for the Iraqi police under the American occupation.

And last year he presented his own evidence that Israel carried out the hit.

NICK KALDAS: Firstly, there is not one skerrick of evidence to suggest any involvement by Israel or any body else who's been accused by Hezbollah. Secondly, I think if you look at pure motive, political causes and so on, I'm not sure that Israel or anybody aligned with them has actually gained by the assassination of Mr Hariri in fact the opposite.

According to Kaldas, it's more likely that Hezbollah's strategic partners rather than its enemies may have been involved.

NICK KALDAS: Hezbollah would not have taken such a dramatic step such as the assassination of Hariri without at least the blessing and possibly the support of those two entities, Syria and Iran.

With Hezbollah determined to never hand over the accused, it seems the Hariri case is moving towards a trial in absentia.

REPORTER (Translation): Who killed Rafic Hariri?

HASSAN ILLEIK (Translation): Once we know who killed John Kennedy, I'll answer you this question.

REPORTER: What does Hezbollah have to be afraid of?

NICK KALDAS: The truth - that's basically it. The only thing that you can say Hezbollah and Mr Nasrallah and the only reason they're attacking the investigation as they are at the moment is because they do not want the truth to come out.

Six years after the carnage of the Hariri assassination much has changed in Lebanon and the Middle East. Hezbollah is stronger than ever and if the Lebanese have grown weary of this drawn-out hunt for Hariri's killers, Nick Kaldas is urging them to stay the course.

NICK KALDAS: I think that the Lebanese people, the international community have a responsibility, an obligation to support the tribunal and the trial going ahead. It is justice in its absolute form. It is the only fair process that can be undertaken once people have been indicted for a murder as grave as that as Mr Hariri and I think to back away from that effort now would undo a whole lot of people's work and people like Wissam Eid would've died in vain.

This sign says 'the truth for the sake of Lebanon' but that truth may be too tightly bound in the complex politics of the region to ever be revealed.

MARK DAVIS: I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that case to be solved. It may provide answers that no-one wants to hear. There's an interview with Yaara on our website with more background on Nick Kaldas and his involvement with the case, plus a biography about Hariri's life. That's at sbs.com.au/dateline.

Reporter/Camera

YAARA BOU MELHEM

Producer

GEOFF PARISH

Additional Camera
Issam Abdallah
Grant Jordan


Fixer
Issam Abdallah

Editors

DAVID POTTS

NICK O'BRIEN

Subtitling/Translations

DALIA MATAR


Archival Footage
Al Manar TV

Original Music composed by Vicki Hansen

2nd October 2011