Assad's adviser in Lebanon accused of securing plea deal

Assad's adviser in Lebanon accused of securing plea deal
Analysis: Michel Samaha has been given three years in jail, after what some believe was a deal to implicate Damascus' spy chief, says Thaer Ghandour.
4 min read
11 May, 2015
Samaha's confession was extremely damaging for the pro-Damascus camp in Beirut [AFP]

Former Lebanese minister Michel Samaha is no longer March 8's favourite ideologue.

Samaha, who was an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been rejected by his own political camp after confessing on 20 April 2015 to transporting explosives and planning terrorist attacks in Lebanon.

He was arrested in August 2012 after recordings were released of him talking to Lieutenant Colonel Adnan - Major General Ali Mamlouk's office director. Mamlouk is the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau.

The former MP admitted Mamlouk knew there were explosives in Samaha's car. Samaha claimed he was lured into carrying them into Lebanon as well as $170,000 in cash, and he apologised to the mufti of Tripoli, Malik al-Shaar, and MP Khaled al-Dahar - who were targets of the Mamlouk-Samaha plot.

Samaha's confession was extremely damaging for the pro-Syrian regime camp in Beirut, and many of his former friends resorted to conspiracy theories to explain his actions.

A March 8 source familiar with Samaha's case, speaking to al-Araby al-Jadeed, accused the former minister of cutting a deal so that he would be released from prison in return for implicating Mamlouk in the affair.

The source did not deny Mamlouk knew about the plot, but says Samaha acted in a "cowardly" way in the court when he made a deal to get a three-year prison sentence.

As Samaha has already served this time, he may be released soon.

The source said Samaha had discouraged his lawyer from interrogating Milad Kfouri, an internal security forces informant who was behind the recordings implicating Samaha. The source pointed out Samaha had unnecessarily involved Mamlouk, the third-most important figure in the Syrian regime after President Bashar al-Assad and his brother General Maher al-Assad.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed
spoke to another March 8 source. "Samaha's deal was blessed by French intelligence, which he has strong ties to."

They argued that the French would use him in some way against the Syrian regime after his release.

     Samaha reportedly fears for his safety and will leave Lebanon as soon as he is released.

Samaha reportedly fears for his safety and will leave Lebanon as soon as he is released, the source explained.

Two months ago, Ashraf Rifi, the justice minister, revealed a Syrian plot to assassinate Samaha in prison had been uncovered.

The source also claimed that Major-General Rustom Ghazali, a Syrian military and intelligence officer, who died mysterious on April 24 had played a role in implicating Mamlouk and Samaha.

The Syrian regime has being accused of involvement in his death.

No deal

A Lebanese security source close to the anti-Syrian regime March 14 political alliance meanwhile denied Samaha had made a deal with any side.

They argued he was forced to confess because of the weight of evidence against him.

"Everyone knows we do not have any influence over the military tribunal," the source added, arguing that the conspiracy theories were part of a plan to assassinate

The source said investigators had been stopped from taking photos of the explosives Samaha allegedly brought from Syria. Therefore, Major-General Wissam al-Hassan, head of intelligence at the Lebanese internal security forces, leaked details of the case to the press to put public pressure on the Lebanese government.

Hassan was asassinated two months after Samaha was arrested in October 2012.

The Syrian regime is likely to try and assassinate Samaha because of the threat he posed to Damascus, said the security source.

On the link between Ghazali and Hassan, the source said the relationship began when the information branch sent Bashar al-Assad information on Israeli spy networks in Syria through then-Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

"At the time, Assad asked Ghazali to follow up the issue with Hassan," the source told al-Araby.

The source explained that their relationship improved when they were tasked with coordinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's visit to Syria in 2009. The Lebanese security official said Ghazali had a lot of information of interest to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

"He was one of the Syrian officers seeking immunity from the STL in return for information and evidence," the source added. "However, only the STL has definitive information about this."

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.