Hariri indictment: what happens next?

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An indictment and arrest warrants issued by a Special Tribunal for Lebanon judge in the probe of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri's murder, is the first step towards trial.

The warrants issued by Belgian judge Daniel Fransen were sent Thursday to the Lebanese prosecutor general, and may also be sent to other law enforcement authorities like Interpol.

Lebanese authorities have 30 days to inform the tribunal's Italian president Antonio Cassese of steps taken to arrest those listed in the document -- which was not made public.

If no arrests are made in this time, and if Cassese decides that "reasonable attempts" were made to serve the indictment, the court may place an advert in the media calling on the accused to surrender to Lebanese authorities.

Once an arrest is made, authorities, with the STL registrar's help, will organise a transfer to the tribunal's detention unit in The Hague.

The accused will then make an initial appearance in an STL courtroom, to be formally charged.

Here, judges will make sure the accused has a lawyer, the indictment will be read, and the defendant asked to plead to the charges.

If no plea is entered, another week will be given, by when a judge will then decide whether to enter a "not guilty" plea on the accused's behalf.

The STL can also hold trials in absentia.

If no arrest is made within 30 days of an announcement in the media, Fransen can ask the court's judges to start proceedings by default.

The absent defendant will be represented by counsel appointed by the head of the tribunal's defence office, French lawyer Francois Roux.

If at any stage during the trial or even after sentencing an absent defendant decides to appear before the STL's judges, a new trial may be requested.

The "presence of an accused person in the STL courtrooms is the best option for all, especially for the accused who will be given the opportunity to present his defence," the tribunal has said.

© 2011 AFP

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