PRESS CONFERENCE BY DETLEV MEHLIS ON HARIRI ASSASSINATION REPORT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
21 October 2005
At a Headquarters press conference today, Detlev Mehlis, Commissioner, United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, said that unfortunately the press had obtained preliminary draft versions of his report, which contained information that was not in the final report which he presented to the Secretary-General on Thursday.
Mr. Mehlis said the report had gone through numerous drafts in the past several weeks but that the only “real” version of the report was the one that he had presented to the Secretary-General and the Security Council on Thursday.
A correspondent said that Mr. Mehlis had deleted the names of four people in the report yesterday, sometime between meeting with the Secretary-General and 3 p.m., and asked why the changes were made -- whether it was at the behest of the Secretary-General or as a result of contacts with Syrian officials. Mr. Mehlis said that none of the changes had been influenced by anyone.
“No one outside the report team influenced these changes and no changes whatsoever were suggested by the Secretary-General or anyone in the United Nations”, Mr. Mehlis said. He said changes had been made on Thursday, including the deletion of four names mentioned by the questioner, when he learned that the report was to be made public. The report had been drafted with the idea that it was supposed to be confidential, he said.
“I don’t know what version you have, but you will notice the wording, ‘confidential’ on the first page, that had been deleted”, in the final version, he said. Once he learned that the report was to be made public, he went through the report with that in mind. The names deleted -- names of people whom he said were suspects -- were given by a witness whose reliability required further investigation, perhaps by a tribunal. He continued, “Since the report was to be made public, I decided the names should not be there because it could give the idea of an established fact. The presumption of innocence stands.”
He added, “I’m not one who would accept changes from the outside because the report was drafted by a team that worked on the report for weeks.”
In response to another question, Mr. Mehlis said he had not met with any Syrian officials in New York, except that he had coincidentally met the Syrian Ambassador at the airport on his arrival, as they were on the same plane.
To a correspondent who said that his story “did not make sense”, because Mr. Mehlis’s computer indicated that changes were made in the report at 11:58 a.m., when the investigator was meeting with the Secretary-General, Mr. Mehlis replied that he had no idea of the time the changes were made, and it was up to the reporter whether or not he believed him.
Asked why an earlier copy of the report including the subsequently deleted names of the brother-in-law of the Syrian president, Asef Shawkat, and others, had been given to the New York Times and why other names of “high Syrian officials” had not been deleted, Mr. Mehlis said he had not given the earlier report to the New York Times.
Asked why Mr. Shawkat was mentioned elsewhere in the report in connection with Mr. Abbas, Mr. Mehlis said that he had not decided to delete all names. Pressed on the question, Mr. Mehlis said that perhaps he should have removed additional names as well.
Asked whether the Lebanese President and the Speaker of the House of the Lebanese Parliament were suspects, Mr. Mehlis said he could not discuss the contents of the report until he briefed the Security Council on it next Tuesday. He was answering press questions today because the press had received deleted parts of the report, due to a technical fault, and that he wanted to make clear that there had been no outside influence on the report.
He said he would decline to answer a question about the credibility of witnesses for the same reason.
Asked about the insertions of several paragraphs in the executive summary of the report, also made yesterday, Mr. Mehlis said his team worked on the report until the last minute. He added that whatever the last minute was, it was the final version of the report that was given to the Secretary-General.
In response to a reporter who said the final version was not available until 3 p.m. and asked what version of the report Mr. Mehlis had given the Secretary-General, Mr. Mehlis repeated that he had given the Secretary-General the final version.
Asked why he had met with United States Representative John Bolton this morning (Friday) about the report, Mr. Mehlis said that he would meet with all ambassadors about it, and that someone had to be first.
Asked how he could not have known that the report was to be made public when everyone else seemed to expect it, Mr. Mehlis said that it did seem to be true that he was the only one who had been unaware that the report was to be public; in his experience, investigation reports were not made public.
Asked whether four months of painstaking work had now become mired in controversy over last-minute changes in the report and whether the report followed a pattern of United Nations reports that attempted to give all interested parties something “to work with”, and that corroborated their own positions, Mr. Mehlis said he hoped that all parties would work with the report. The idea of the report was to show the conclusions his team had reached.
Asked if the controversy about the changes in the report and the press conference was undermining the credibility of the report, Mr. Mehlis said he hoped not, but that depended on whether or not the press believed him.
In response to a question why he had leaked the document to the press and whether any Lebanese officials had known about the contents of the report, Mr. Mehlis said he had not leaked anything to the press nor had he discussed the report with any politicians.
Asked why members of the press should believe him, given the evidence produced by computer, Mr. Mehlis said the press was not obliged to believe him.
Noting that computer tracking of changes made in the report indicated that changes had been made at the time Mr. Mehlis was meeting with the Secretary-General, Mr. Mehlis said that he had made no changes while meeting with the Secretary-General and that he was unaware of anyone else doing so.
Asked if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had cooperated with the investigation, Mr. Mehlis said that it was a question that had to be addressed later.
Mr. Mehlis did not answer a question as to whether the report implicated Mr. Assad’s office.
Asked about a reference in the report to him being misled by Mr. Assad, Mr. Mehlis said that at this time he wanted to discuss only questions concerning the various versions of the report.
Asked if he would have deleted the names had he been guaranteed that the report was only going to the Security Council and not to the press, Mr. Mehlis said that he probably would not have deleted the names.
Asked if he would be part of a continuing investigation, and whether he would go back to Lebanon to do so, Mr. Mehlis said it depended on whether the mandate was extended.
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For information media • not an official record
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