The Man Who Wrote the Mehlis Report on Rafiq al-Hariri’s Murder Claims Third Witness was a “full-blown mythomaniac”
Posted by Joshua on Thursday, May 5th, 2011
The Man Who Wrote the Mehlis Report on Rafiq al-Hariri’s Murder Speaks Out about the Quality of their Witnesses – Siddiq, Hossam, and Antonios Bani Auda – a “full-blown mythomaniac”
by Aron Lund
For Syria Comment
May 5, 2011
Swedish public television (SVT1) just aired an episode of Uppdrag granskning, a popular show specialized in tracking down government abuses and miscarriages of justice. This episode was headlined “Don’t fuck with the UN”, and concerned a witness in the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) for the Mehlis report. Below is a summary of the show, which can be seen in its entirety here. It’s in Swedish, but some of the interviews and taped segments are in original English.
The show is focused on a Mr. Bo Åström, a veteran Swedish police investigator who worked under Mehlis in the UNIIIC. He left the investigation with Mehlis in 2006, and they still work together, now on another assignment in the Philippines.
Åström was deeply involved in the preparation of the first Mehlis report, and at one point says (it’s possible he wasn’t aware that the camera was rolling) that he wrote most of it, since he was the investigator, while Mehlis more or less only did the preface.
The reporters summarize his view of the Hariri assassination. Åström and Mehlis develop the theory that the main culprits are the four Lebanese generals (Azar, Hajj, Hamdan, Sayyed), on orders of Rustom Ghazaleh and Asef Shawkat. Early on they found two witnesses to corroborate this theory, namely Siddiq and Hossam. Then both witnesses start causing trouble. First, Hossam shows up in Damascus and switches his story. Then, Siddiq is proven to be unreliable, after they investigate the apartment in the Dahiye where he claims the murder plot was hatched, and find that it had not been used by anyone during the relevant period. Åström is very frustrated by all this.
At that point however, in October 2005, a certain Abdelbaset Ahmed Bani Auda, known as Antonios Bani Auda is referred to the UNIIIC by Lebanese authorities. Bani Auda is an Arab Israeli with a really shady history as a double or triple agent in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, having been a team leader of some sorts in the Israeli Shabak, while simultaneously working for Arafat. He was married to the Lebanese singer Nada Rizq, also an Israeli agent. When she revealed his double-agent role, he had to flee from Israel to Lebanon. There, he explains, he was put in prison, where he claims he was visited by Lebanese intelligence. They tell him that he’ll stay there for the rest of his life unless he agrees to work for them. He accepts, and is freed.
After his release, he says, he is fortunate enough to get asylum in Sweden on a UN quota, and moves to the northern town of Umeå, where he still lives as a refugee with asylum (no citizenship). Lebanese security continue to contact him, and comes to visit him in Umeå repeatedly. They give him money, promise him government jobs and all sorts of things, and start demanding that he must kill Rafiq el-Hariri. He is taken to Lebanon a few times, shown the Qureitem and Hariri’s car, etc. The mission is for him to place bombs in two places, in Lebanon and in another country in Europe, to kill Hariri. He is also taken to meet Syrian officers in Greece and Syria, including Maher el-Assad. He refuses to participate in the mission. The following year, Hariri is murdered by someone else. Bani Auda explains that if he had accepted the mission, Hariri would have been killed already in 2004.
At this point he contacts Lebanese police, who put him in contact with UNIIIC, somewhere around October 2005. Since he lives in Sweden, he’s put in contact with Bo Åström, but also with Günter Neifer, a German investigator. They listen to his testimony and decide that he is trustworthy. He is mentioned in the second Mehlis report (Dec. 2005) as “a new witness”, from paragraph 32 onwards.
Bani Auda claims he is at this point beginning to be threatened and monitored (by Syria or its allies, presumably). He sets a condition for his testimony: he will not testify unless the UNIIIC promises him protection, help in getting a new citizenship (preferably Swedish), etc.
The UNIIIC prepares a written contract to this effect. There appears to be no talk of money or anything apart from protection for him and his family, but among the things mentioned is a new citizenship, protection, help in changing his appearance, etc. The contract states that his testimony will not leave the UNIIIC until these things have been arranged. This contract is read to him over the phone by Åström, and he accepts. He is flown to Vienna, and formally deposits his testimony.
Åström then gets to work on trying to arrange the protection. The problem is that the contract makes promises that the UNIIIC can’t deliver on – the UN can’t issue citizenships in Sweden or elsewhere. The program makes the point that Åström/UNIIIC must have known this. They tricked Bani Auda into making his testimony in return for protection that they couldn’t deliver. Still, Åström tries to use his contacts in Sweden to help Bani Auda.
However, when Åström gets in touch with police in Umeå, he is shocked to hear that they already know about the case. Bani Auda has been talking to local police, possibly someone he already knew there and had discussed the affair with earlier. Åström gets the impression that “the whole community knows”. He is outraged, says he was laughed at. He calls Bani Auda and curses him, telling him that he can’t and won’t arrange protection if Bani Auda can’t do his part and keep quiet about his involvement. He says he’s been made an ass of in front of his colleagues (he repeatedly shouts the phrase, “you’ve given me the donkey’s face”, which makes no sense in either Swedish or English, as far as I know). Still shouting, he appears to threaten Bani Auda, saying he must keep quiet, stop embarrassing him, and allow him to work on the protection detail, or the UNIIIC will “kick your fucking ass back to Israel” etc. At one point, he yells: “Tell us all you know, or we’re going to kick your ass! You don’t fuck with the UN!”, hence the program’s title.
All of the above phone calls have been secretly recorded by Bani Auda himself. At this point, the program sidetracks onto what the reporters apparently felt is the real scandal, namely the question of whether Swedish police has failed to deliver on a witness protection program, and whether Åström has threatened Bani Auda with repatriation to Israel, from where he fled. (This part is not so relevant to the Hariri affair.)
The reporter traps Åström by confronting with the issue, at which point he denies everything. He is then immediately shown the contract, and responds by denying he knew about it. They then play Bani Auda’s recording of him reading the contract, at which point he, deeply embarrassed, claims he doesn’t remember.
It is revealed that the written contract included a clause that wasn’t read out loud by Åström to Bani Auda, which says that the UNIIIC isn’t bound to provide these things unless Bani Auda’s testimony turns out to be true. The reporters say that since some of these details cannot be confirmed, this constitutes a loophole, but it isn’t clear that this is why the UNIIIC failed to deliver. When asked about this, Åström says in passing that he feels that Bani Auda didn’t deliver on his part of the contract, since he didn’t provide all the info he had promised. Günter Neifer is interviewed by phone, and says the contract was Åströms idea, but Swedish authorities apparently refused to provide protection/citizenship etc.
Some half-hearted efforts apparently continue after this point to help Bani Auda, but by February 2006 Mehlis and Åström both leave the UNIIIC, when Brammertz replaces Mehlis. Mehlis explains that this is because he had been informed that there were certain parties that wanted him dead, and that is why he left his post. Åström left with him (as mentioned above, they still work together).
When Åström leaves the mission, Bani Auda is provided with a new contact in the UNIIIC – British policeman who has now left the mission, but who still refuses to be identified to viewers, since he is fears for his life (apparently because of his work in the UNIIIC). He, too, fails to get someone to help Bani Auda, despite trying. Meanwhile, the Bani Auda testimony is (despite the clause in the contract banning this) handed over to the legal defense of the four generals, and then promptly leaked to the Lebanese press. Clips are shown from al-Manar, where Bani Auda’s name and picture is discussed. When interviewed by phone, the British policeman says that Bani Auda had been “horribly treated” by the UNIIIC and “could be killed”. The UNIIIC opinion is apparently that the contract between Åström and Bani Auda “isn’t worth the paper it was written on”.
Åström is asked about this, and says that Bani Auda’s “personal information has been out in the open for five years, and so far I haven’t heard anything other than that he’s alive and well.” He explains that he has changed his opinion about Bani Auda and now considers him a “full-blown mythomaniac”, but he remains convinced that Syria & the four generals were really behind the Hariri hit.
Bani Auda has still received no help from the UN. He has filed a complaint with Swedish police against Åström, for the threat to repatriate him to Israel, and provided his recorded phone calls as proof. The investigation was canceled almost immediately, without hearing either Bani Auda or Åström.
And that’s it. Just to be clear, I’m only describing what was said on the show. I don’t know what’s true or false, and I had nothing to do with its making.
Aron Lund is the author of Drömmen om Damaskus (Silc, 2010), a Swedish-language history of Syria and its opposition movements.