Lebanon’s highest appeals court ordered Tuesday the retrial of a former cabinet minister after overturning a four-and-a-half year sentence against him for transporting explosives.
Former information minister Michel Samaha was sentenced on May 13 after being found guilty of “having tried to carry out terrorist actions and… belonging to an armed group.”
But the Cassation Court nullified the verdict Tuesday and ordered a retrial at the request of military prosecutor Sakr Sakr, scheduling the new trial for July 16, a judicial source said.
A request from Samaha’s lawyers that he be freed was refused, the source said.
Samaha has been under arrest since August 2012 over allegations that he and Syrian security services chief Ali Mamluk transported explosives and planned attacks and assassinations of political and religious figures in Lebanon.
Samaha, a former adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, admitted during his trial that he had transported the explosives from Syria for use in attacks in Lebanon, but argued he had been the victim of entrapment.
Because he was arrested in August 2012 and the judicial year in Lebanon is nine months long, Samaha’s sentence would have seen him freed by the end of 2015 because of time served.
The sentence was denounced as “scandalous” for its leniency by Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi.
Sakr also argued that the sentence was too light, and wants Samaha convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, which carries the death penalty.
The ongoing proceedings come amid continuing tensions in Lebanon over the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011 with protests against Assad’s regime.
Beirut has maintained an official policy of neutrality, but the violence has regularly spilled over its borders and exacerbated existing sectarian tensions.
The powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and its allies back Assad’s regime, while many Lebanese Sunnis support the uprising.