Lebanese Actor Accused of Spying for Israel is Freed

Published March 14th, 2018 - 09:05 GMT
 Lebanese actor Ziad Itani speaks to the press as he arrives to his house in Beirut following his release on March 13, 2018 (AFP/File Photo)
Lebanese actor Ziad Itani speaks to the press as he arrives to his house in Beirut following his release on March 13, 2018 (AFP/File Photo)

A military investigative judge Tuesday released actor Ziad Itani from custody without bail and issued arrest warrants for Maj. Suzan Hajj Hobeiche and suspected hacker Elie Ghabash, who are accused of framing the actor as a spy for Israel.

“No one has been wronged as I was,” Itani told local media as he left the Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces. “The heroes at the [ISF’s] Information Branch saved us from a scandal of the ages.”

Itani then met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the premier’s residence. “Today, justice has prevailed,” Hariri told him in a televised encounter. “The government has proved that the way it works and the processes it uses can produce good work,” he said.

Hariri said that false information was circulated leading to Itani’s arrest “but it doesn’t mean the system is wrong, anyone would have reached the same conclusion.”

The prime minister noted that the job of the judiciary was to differentiate between true and false claims, “and today, they did their job.”

The meeting was interrupted by Itani’s mother, who embraced her son and thanked the premier. It was the first time she had seen Itani since his arrest. “I told her that you would stand by us and you didn’t disappoint,” Itani told the prime minister.

“Congratulations to Ziad Itani, congratulations to [Military Investigative Judge Riad] Abu Ghaida. The stage is waiting for you,” Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk tweeted after Itani’s release.

Following his meeting with Hariri, Itani went to Beirut’s Al-Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood where he grew up. Hundreds of supporters gathered to greet him.

“They accused me of something that doesn’t sound like me,” Itani said as he was lifted by the crowd into the air before embracing his daughter in an emotional reunion.

 

 

Itani was arrested on Nov. 24 after State Security forces uncovered social media messages between the actor and a suspected Mossad agent. He later confessed to charges of collaboration with Israel.

When asked why he had confessed, he reiterated previous statements through his lawyer that he had been beaten during the interrogation. “Let the judiciary find out what happened within five minutes of my arrest. Nov. 26 was the day the abuse came,” Itani said. State Security earlier this month denied that Itani had been subjected to any form of physical or psychological torture to extract a confession, “contrary to Itani’s lawyer’s claims.”

Itani also thanked President Michel Aoun, Hariri, Machnouk and the judicial system for their roles in his release.

Machnouk paid a visit to Itani at the actor’s parents’ home in Al-Tariq al-Jadideh. “Those who wronged him should apologize but many believed in his innocence,” he told reporters, adding that the system had succeeded and should be protected.

The interior minister denied allegations that he and Hariri had used Itani’s case to their advantage for electoral purposes. “The case began before the parliamentary elections were even set,” he said.

Abu Ghaida issued the arrest warrants against Hobeiche and Ghabash after completing his questioning of Hobeiche earlier Monday, a judicial source said.

Ghabash was also brought into the interrogation room during the session, the source said. A confrontation reportedly ensued between the two suspects, during which Hobeiche denied she had forced Ghabash to hack into Itani’s online accounts and fabricate evidence.

“Without her, I wouldn’t know anyone named Ziad Itani,” Ghabash was quoted as saying.

Abu Ghaida also listened to the testimony of Ghabash’s wife, who claimed that Hobeiche had offered the hacker money to retract his confession. Hobeiche denied all charges and accusations, maintaining her innocence. Her lawyer, Rashid Derbass, also attended the questioning session, according to the source.

Abu Ghaida may hear additional testimonies before he issues an indictment against Hobeiche and Ghabash to pave the way for the case to reach the Military Tribunal, the source said.

Hobeiche, a former head of the ISF’s Anti-Cybercrime Bureau, is being sued by a public prosecutor at the Military Tribunal for criminal defamation and hacking.

Judge Hani Helmi al-Hajjar filed the motion against Hobeiche and Ghabash on suspicion of fabricating evidence against Itani to frame him as a spy for Israel.

Reports then emerged that Hobeiche may have framed Itani as revenge for losing her job. She allegedly blamed Itani for playing a role in her October dismissal, the judicial source said, accusing the actor of sharing screen shots after she had “liked” a controversial Twitter post.

Hobeiche quickly removed the “like” but the screen shots of her activity circulated widely, reportedly leading to her firing.

 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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