Who killed ‘Mr. Lebanon’?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Why 'Mr Lebanon' had many enemies

        Diplomats doubt that Syria would kill its former ally as
        evidence points to the billionaire being victim of an
        'ordinary bomb'

Peter Beaumont in London and Mitchell Prothero in Beirut
Sunday February 20, 2005
The Observer

In death, the world feted Lebanon's former Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, 
assasinated on Valentine's Day. Obituaries spoke of a grand statesman and 'Mr 

But in Beirut Hariri was hated and distrusted by many in equal measure - not for
his politics, but for his controlling interest in the giant post-war Lebanese 
reconstruction company Solidere, which has been accused of carrying out forcible
evictions, corruption and wholesale political graft.

Last week as British officals voiced doubts over US and Israeli-backed 
allegations that Syrian intelligence agents were behind the bombing of Hariri's 
motorcade on Beirut's Corniche, a picture began to emerge of a deeply flawed 
billionaire with as many foes as friends.

It is a story of murky dealings and personal enrichment on a grand scale; a tale
of politics and the judiciary suborned to business interests, and of multiple 
motives for Hariri's slaying.

It is a very different picture from that presented by a Lebanese opposition 
campaigning for the withdrawal of the Syrian army, by Hariri's family and by Tel
Aviv and Washington: that Hariri, splitting with Damascus and the pro-Damascus 
government of Emile Lahoud, had been taken out by the Syrians.

'It does not make sense,' said one European official, 'it is not really Syria's 
modus operandi. It is such a gift for the anti-Syrian lobby in Lebanon and 
internationally. Why would they do it? Not only that, but the Syrians would not 
want to upset the Saudis, who they are cautious in their relations with and who 
regard Hariri [who has a Saudi passport] as being very much their own.'

And despite Hariri's split with his old friends in September over Lebanon's 
future governance, senior Syrian officals saw him as 'a moderating influence' 
with other opposition figures who could 'put across Syria's point of view'.

If Syria was not the culprit, who are the other candidates and what was the 
motive? A previously unheard-of jihadist group has already claimed 
responsibility saying Hariri was 'an agent of Syria' as well as closely linked 
with the Saudi royal family. This was rejected by Lebanese authorities, but the 
attack - far from the sophistication claimed as evidence of foreign intelligence
involvment - bears hallmarks of a jihadi attack: a car bomb denonated by the 
suicide bomber.

Lead investigator Rachid Mezher says the explosion that killed Hariri was from 
'an ordinary bomb', a view endorsed by some in the diplomatic community.

'Not all the jihadi groups in Lebanon are under tight control,' said the western
official. 'They don't have brass plaques on their door saying where they are, 
and given that foreign fighters have been going through Lebanon and Syria en 
route to Iraq, there has been for some time a risk of backwash in the countries 
they are travelling through. For these groups, his connection with the Saudi 
royal family and his lavish lifestyle may have made him an attractive target.'

Then there are Hariri's business interests and Solidere itself. He was dogged 
throughout his career by allegations of wrongdoing. The schoolteacher turned 
contractor in Saudi Arabia and gained his entrée in Saudi royal circles in the 
1970s by building the hotel for an Islamic summit in months. As his wealth and 
power grew, Hariri began to pour money into Lebanon through the Al-Hariri 
Foundation which he established in 1979, supporting education, reconstruction 
and other projects. But there were dark rumours that he also funded the militias
which were tearing his country apart.

By the mid-1980s Hariri saw that the future of power in his country lay with 
Damascus and began courting President Hafaz al-Assad's government, spending the 
last war years mediating between the Syrians and the Lebanese warlords which 
culminated in his key role - brokering the Taif Accords in 1989 which ended the 
civil war.

He began work on the project that would fix his grasp on Lebanese politics for 
much of the next 15 years, the rebuilding of Beirut. But last year the post-war 
city dominated by Hariri was characterised by Charles Adwan, executive director 
of the Lebanese Transparency Association, as 'a textbook case of legitimised 
corruption' as wartime organisations were incorporated into new public 
institutions while former militia members integrated into the administration.

Hariri's private and public functions became dangerously tangled. The new Prime 
Minster was not only the biggest shareholder in Solidere, the company set up to 
rebuild Lebanon's wrecked capital, but also the moving force behind a law that 
allowed properties to be compulsarily purchased at knockdown prices. Judges 
valuing the properties were allegedly bought through widespread bribes paid by 

While the shiny new Beirut looked good, by the late 1990s Hariri's political 
leadership was under attack. High unemployment, public disgust at the corruption
and the biggest per capita debt in the developing world all took away the shine.
Beneath the gloss, Mr Lebanon's economic problems and his enemies were 

None of which matters in a febrile Lebanon after Hariri's murder. Regardless of 
whoever ordered the killing, ordinary Lebanese believe it was Syria.

George Haddad, an official with a banned opposition group, the Free Patriotic 
Movement, says the killing has unified a previously fractious opposition to 
Syria's dominance in Lebanon's affairs. He argues that this dominance has always
been protected through violence and that Syrian intelligence services would fail
to see the downside to killing such a popular figure.

Haddad says the killing has allowed the opposition parties - Christian, Druze 
and Sunni - to set aside their differences and plan 'to surround the government 
in Beirut with people until the current government resigns and the Syrians end 
their role in Lebanese affairs'.

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