The Maison Blanche Shooting: How Influential People Get Away With It

2021-07-08    |   

The Maison Blanche Shooting: How Influential People Get Away With It

Approximately nine years after the fact, the ruling on the crime of shooting at patrons of La Maison Blanche nightclub and attempted murder of one of them, namely Mazen Zein, was issued. On 19 February 2019, the Beirut Criminal Court acquitted all the defendants referred to it by the Indictment Chamber of attempted murder, although it did convict them of possessing and using weapons without a permit, threats using a weapon, and vandalism. The court concluded its ruling by referring the case to the Public Prosecution for action against two people whom the evidence in its possession implicated in the attempted murder, even though the Indictment Chamber had intentionally not referred them to the court.

The crime occurred on 26 February 2010 in the aforementioned club. It began when Antoun Sehnaoui – chairman of the SGBL bank and a major financier in Lebanon – realized that Mazen Zein, with whom he had had a business dispute leading to a court case won by the latter, was inside the club. Sehnaoui approached the club’s owner – Raymond Bishara – about his “annoyance” at Zein’s presence in the same venue and asked that he be ejected. After Bishara refused, a number of armed men from Sehnaoui’s entourage intruded into the club. While they fired in multiple directions, some specifically targeted Zein, who was hit three times and taken to intensive care in a critical condition.

In the wake of the incident, the judicial investigation was impaired by several circumstances. In particular, Sehnaoui immediately left Lebanon and only submitted for interrogation 43 days after the crime’s perpetration (i.e. after the search and investigation warrant against him had expired), only to then be left free. The investigation also witnessed a rare judicial dispute between the Beirut Public Prosecution, represented by Cassation Advocate-General Samer Younes, and the investigating judiciary. This dispute concerned not only Sehnaoui’s culpability but also the identity of his bodyguards who shot at Zein, as evidence that the actual shooter was not among the people detained in the case came to the Public Prosecution’s attention. Despite Younes’ extraordinary efforts, the Indictment Chamber ultimately limited its indictment to those detainees while barring a trial of Sehnaoui. Consequently, this crime, which shook the public, ended in a ruling that does not identify the culprits and hence in their impunity. This case thereby became a model that provides several insights into the gaps and flaws tarnishing judicial work in Lebanon and the resulting discrimination in favor of the influential and powerful. This we shall show in this article by highlighting the judicial stances that went in this vein and the dangers that they produced, without neglecting the exceptional confrontation that Younes instigated and that ultimately embarrassed many of his colleagues.

Shedding light on this case is especially important at this stage because of the developments in the prosecution that Appellate Public Prosecutor in Mount Lebanon Ghada Aoun recently initiated against Sehnaoui for buying dollars and shipping them out of Lebanon. Sehnaoui refused to appear before Aoun and treated his summons as an opportunity to launch a direct attack on her for daring to take action against him, an attack that led to the leak of news that she may be dismissed from the judiciary.

Judicial Decisions to Spare Sehnaoui and His Key Bodyguards from Indictment

As previously explained, the Criminal Court’s ruling was the expected outcome given the course of the prosecution and investigation, and the decisions and procedures it involved, particularly the indictment’s conclusions. To highlight this, we will address the most important of these decisions and their clear gaps and flimsy explanations that withstand no serious debate.

No Charge of Murder or Forming a Criminal Gang

The first of these decisions is Appellate Public Prosecutor in Beirut Judge Joseph Miamari’s decision referring the case to First Investigating Judge in Beirut Ghassan Oueidat‏.

Miamari charged Sehnaoui and four of his bodyguards (the same ones who were later tried by the Criminal Court) with various crimes. The discrimination in Sehnaoui’s favor was evident in this very first measure: while the Public Prosecution charged the bodyguards with deliberate bodily harm (Article 554 of the Penal Code), attempted murder (Article 547), and possessing weapons, damaging private property, and shooting with an intent to terrorize, all of which are felonies, it limited its charges against Sehnaoui to threatening Zein with deliberate bodily harm (Article 554), which is a misdemeanor. Miamari also asked that the four bodyguards be arrested and to be shown the transcript after Sehnaoui’s interrogation so that he could make the appropriate requests. This discrimination in Sehnaoui’s favor occurred even though he had gone into hiding and failed to appear for investigation.

The Public Prosecution also omitted a number of other crimes suspected to have been committed, including forming an (armed) criminal gang and attempted premeditated murder. It also discarded suspicions about the bank and companies that Sehnaoui chairs and that employ those bodyguards.

After Interrogation, Oueidat Leaves Sehnaoui Free with the Public Prosecution’s Blessings

On 9 April 2010, 43 days after the crime, Sehnaoui appeared before Judge Oueidat pursuant to the aforementioned charge. Oueidat decided to leave him free even though his statements contradicted the many witness testimonies and even some of his detained bodyguards’ statements with regard to his role in the crime. Note that Miamari had left the decision up to Oueidat’s discretion. Sehnaoui’s release is especially problematic because of the suspicion that he was not cooperating with the investigation – particularly by denying any role in the crime and knowledge of his bodyguards’ identities, the structure of their work, and the type of weapons they carry – and because of his influence over his bodyguards’ cooperation.

Oueidat Refuses to Expand the Investigation into the Conflicting Witness Statements, Explaining the Discrepancy via “the Purpose of Nightlife”

Based on Sehnaoui’s statement, which mentioned that his bodyguards work in security for SGBL and Fidus SAL, Zein filed a second complaint against these two companies, which Sehnaoui chairs, for forming an armed gang (Article 336 of the Penal Code). The complaint also included a personal action against Sehnaoui for complicity in attempted murder. Rather than duly questioning Sehnaoui as the companies’ representative and despite receiving an explicit request to this end from Appellate Advocate-General in Beirut Samer Younes (who had taken over the case as a Public Prosecution representative), Oueidat merely joined the second complaint to the first.

Moreover, Oueidat rejected Younes’ other requests for confrontations between the plaintiff (Zein) or some of the witnesses and the defendants, particularly Sehnaoui, due to the contradiction in their statements. In the same decision, Oueidat also rejected other requests to expand the investigation by requesting telecommunications data or tasking Sehnaoui or the bank with producing a list and pictures of its security personnel so that they could be shown to the plaintiff, defendants, and witnesses, even though Sehnaoui had said that he was prepared to do so when Oueidat himself interrogated him.

Oueidat justified this refusal merely by saying that, “The investigations into this case have been exhausted, and we see no reason to conduct the requested confrontations, especially because the contradictions in the witness testimonies are natural given the nature of the place and the purpose of nightlife”. Oueidat seemed to be implying that we should not ponder over the testimonies or their contradictions as they come from people assumed, by virtue of their mere presence in the club, to be drunk. The least that can be said about this explanation is that it shows Oueidat’s desire to refrain from any expansion of the investigation and to close it irrespective of its findings, as well as his inclination to ignore the evidence that the testimonies provided against Sehnaoui. Particularly notable is his use of the terms “natural” and “nature” in an apparent attempt to portray a bizarre decision consisting of only a few lines as logical, intuitive, and undebatable. Despite the decision’s absurdity, it effectively put the brakes on the investigation and paved the way for the liabilities in this case to be diluted.

Finally, Oueidat’s reception of telecommunications data from the company Alfa entailed no investigation, and the data was not used as evidence in any of the subsequent judicial decisions. While Younes pointed out that Sehnaoui may have multiple mobile phone numbers, Oueidat asked the two telecommunications companies to supply him only with the telecommunications to and from the number that Sehnaoui said was his only one.


The Indictment Chamber Under Suhair Harake Also Refuses to Expand the Investigation

When the Public Prosecution appealed Oueidat’s decision before the Indictment Chamber, which was composed of Suhair Harake as president and Joseph Ghantous and Hani Al Hajjar as auxiliary judges, the Indictment Chamber decided to allow the interrogation of the defendant companies before the investigation’s closure but dismissed the other requests to expand the investigation based on conflicting testimonies. The Indictment Chamber justified its stance merely by stating, “Given the facts of the case and the contents of the investigation, the ancillary submission’s other clauses must not be accepted because they would serve no purpose”. Hence, to disregard the Public Prosecution’s requests, the Indictment Chamber opted to avoid providing explanation – an approach that is just as problematic as providing an explanation based on flimsy arguments, such as the assumption that nightlife necessarily involves intoxication.

Sami Sidki Releases Sehnaoui’s Bodyguards

After Oueidat’s decision was partially overturned, the case ended up in the hands of a second investigating judge – namely Sami Sidki – whom Oueidat himself had appointed in his capacity as first investigating judge. In accordance with the Public Prosecution’s opinion, Sidki dismissed the requests to release all Sehnaoui’s accused bodyguards on 20 October 2010. However, he then approved them 25 days later (15 November 2010), going against the Public Prosecution’s opinion. Sehnaoui’s bodyguards were thereby set free approximately nine months after the crime.

Jean Fahd Delegates Himself to Preside over the Indictment Chamber and Upholds the Release

Zein’s attorney appealed the decision to release Sehnaoui’s bodyguards before the Indictment Chamber. At that point, the Indictment Chamber’s new president, Judge Nada Dakroub, asked to recuse herself from the case because her niece was a lawyer in Zein’s attorney’s law firm. Remarkably, after her request was approved, First President of the Beirut Court of Appeal Jean Fahd delegated himself to preside over the Indictment Chamber in her place in this case. His first decision in this capacity upheld the decisions to release the bodyguards.

Sidki Refuses, in Contravention of the Code of Criminal Procedure, to Interrogate Sehnaoui and Refuses to Expand the Investigation

On 8 March 2011, after the aforementioned Indictment Chamber decision, Younes explicitly charged Sehnaoui with complicity in attempted murder. He again asked that Sehnaoui be interviewed in his personal capacity pursuant to this charge and in his capacity as representative of the two companies pursuant to Zein’s complaint against him.

However, Sidki dismissed the request and merely interviewed other representatives of the companies. He justified this action on the basis that the Indictment Chamber, in its previous decision, had decided against initiating a public prosecution. Sidki also refrained from any additional investigation to identify the tall figure whom several testimonies mentioned was the shooter, as Younes noted in his submission.

The Indictment Chamber Under Fahd Observes the Beating of a Witness by One of the Bodyguards

When Younes appealed Sidki’s decision to close the investigation again, the Indictment Chamber – composed of Fahd and auxiliary judges Charbel Rizk and Hani Al Hajjar – overturned the decision “due to the legal fallacies it contained”. The Indictment Chamber held that Sidki should have interviewed Sehnaoui because the Public Prosecution (Younes) had gone on to charge him with the felony of attempted murder and this action occurred after the Indictment Chamber’s previous decision, thereby undermining Sidki’s invocation of its content. Hence, the Indictment Chamber decided to take over the investigation and charged Al Hajjar with the task. On that basis, Al Hajjar interrogated Sehnaoui on 21 September 2011 – approximately a year and a half after his initial interrogation – in the presence of Sehnaoui’s and Zein’s attorneys.

Notably, in the transcript of the interrogation, Al Hajjar refuses to allow Zein’s attorney to pose certain questions to Sehnaoui. These questions included ones about Sehnaoui’s knowledge of his bodyguards’ similar prior shootings or assaults, the first person he called after the incident, and the statement by George Antonious, a.k.a. Mamas – and is Sehnaoui’s head of security – that he knew about the incident at 2:30 AM after receiving a call from Sehnaoui.

After the interrogation, Younes asked that Sehnaoui be arrested because of the gravity of the actions imputed to him and the serious suspicion and evidence against him. However, the Indictment Chamber decided to grant him bail for LL20 million [USD13,330 at the official rate], an amount that nevertheless indicates the strength of the evidence against him. Hence, Sehnaoui managed to escape any detention even before escaping any indictment.

On 26 June 2012, the case witnessed an important development. Zein announced that he recognized the two people who had shot at him (namely ‎Emile Simon and Eid Nammur) in a video of the assassination of the youth Elie Naaman in broad daylight and cold blood in front of the latter’s shop. The Indictment Chamber then continued its investigation, conducting several interrogations and confrontations under dubious circumstances. Most gravely, Simon beat one of the witnesses, namely Fadi Marwa, when he dared to say that the silhouette he had seen matched Simon’s massive build. Yet Simon was not subsequently interviewed as a defendant in the case.

Randa Yakzan Refuses to Charge Sehnaoui Due to Insufficient Evidence

At this point, two great surprises came from Judge Randa Yakzan, who had become acting appellate public prosecutor in Beirut after Judge Miamari retired and the case was withdrawn from Younes. These two actions had the greatest effect in the loss of truth and culpability in this case.

Firstly, Yakzan asked the Indictment Chamber to bar the trial of the two companies and Sehnaoui due to insufficient evidence against him. She thereby went back on the Public Prosecution’s previous charges of threatening Zein with bodily harm and complicity in attempted murder. Notably, she justified this action on the basis that, “The majority of witnesses unanimously stated that they did not see the defendant Antoun Sehnaoui order his defendant bodyguards to attack the plaintiff” and that “Sehnaoui’s role was limited to his annoyance at Mazen Zein’s presence in the club and his request that the club’s manager eject him”. This explanation is marred by six issues:

  • It is contradictory because in the one sentence, Yakzan paired the words “majority” and “unanimously”, thereby ignoring the vast difference between them.
  • She claimed that the majority of witnesses went in this vein without naming any of them.
  • She ignored the testimony of witnesses Raymond Bishara, Badawi Ubayd, Fadi Marwa (who was beaten because of his testimony), Fadi Baydun, and plaintiff Mazen Zein, who – to the contrary – all witnessed Sehnaoui point out Zein to a massive man wearing a green coat, the same man to shoot at him.
  • She used the number of witnesses as the decisive criteria for deciding whether to issue charges without considering the credibility of their testimonies.
  • She acted like a trial judge, who does not uphold charges in the absence of certainty, rather than a public prosecutor, who usually issues charges when there is serious suspicion (as is undoubtedly the case here) and leaves the task of weighing the evidence to the trial courts.
  • She seemed to be blocking any criticism of her decision by characterizing Sehnaoui’s attitude toward Zein’s presence in the club (the thing that prompted his bodyguards to shoot at Zein) as mere annoyance that caused him to take the nonaggressive stance of demanding that the club’s owner eject Zein. She thereby disregarded any connection between this annoyance or demand and his bodyguards’ shooting of Zein and the crimes it entailed.

Hence, Yakzan opted to remove Sehnaoui from the case even though she had significant evidence of his complicity in the crime and in contravention of the Public Prosecution’s function of representing public right – i.e. the rights of society – in this regard.

Secondly, Yakzan made no mention whatsoever of Simon and Nammur in either her recital of the facts or her requests. Rather, she merely asked that the four other bodyguards be charged. She thereby totally ignored Zein’s statements that none of them had shot at him and that Simon and Nammur were the ones to do so. She also ignored many of the other testimonies, including that of Badawi Ubayd, who recognized Simon when a confrontation was conducted between them and confirmed that he was the one to shoot at Zein. Similarly, the witness Fadi Marwa stated that he saw a silhouette that matched Simon’s massive build approach Zein’s table, at which point Simon had attacked him during the confrontation.

The Indictment Chamber Under Roukoz Rizk Hides Behind Yakzan and Leaves Sehnaoui Out of the Indictment

Despite the oddity of the Public Prosecution’s stance, which distorted the facts of the case, the Indictment Chamber opted to adhere to the framework that the Public Prosecution had laid out. This is evident from the indictment that the Indictment Chamber, composed of president Roukoz Rizk (who had assumed this position after Fahd was appointed president of the Supreme Judicial Council) and members Charbel Rizk and Hani Al Hajjar, issued unanimously on 20 February 2013.

Just as Yakzan had done, the Indictment Chamber barred any trial of Sehnaoui and his two companies and made no mention whatsoever of his bodyguards Simon and Nammur in its findings.

While Zein challenged the Indictment Chamber’s decision before the Criminal Court of Cassation, the court dismissed the challenge on procedural grounds. According to the court,  the challenge did not meet the procedural condition for cassation, namely a difference in the legal qualification of the act between the investigating judge’s order to commit the case [to court] and the Indictment Chamber’s indictment. As the Indictment Chamber had addressed the merits of the dispute when Zein had challenged the investigating judge’s decisions before it at a previous stage, there was no committal order.

Younes’ Resistance in Defense of Society

Younes stood out in this case (before it was withdrawn from him) by bravely and insistently opposing the aforementioned decisions and actions by multiple judges attempting to remove Sehnaoui from it. This he was able to do because of the powers vested in the Public Prosecution to represent public right. He could present any request he deemed appropriate to the investigating judges examining the crime and appeal their decisions before the Indictment Chamber, as well as make submissions regarding the merits or any release request filed to them. Several times, Younes distinguished himself by exercising these powers, as we will explain below.

Before doing so, we must mention that the Public Prosecution is organized hierarchically. The cassation public prosecutor may issue verbal or written orders to any Public Prosecution member. Moreover, the appellate public prosecutor in each governorate may withdraw the case from advocates-general working under them and usually does so when he or she disagrees with them, just as occurred in this case. Of course, all these practices limit the independence of the Public Prosecution offices and subordinates them to the will of the head of the hierarchy, namely the cassation public prosecutor. Hence, these practices all underscore the exceptionality of Younes’ role in this case.

The first stand that Younes took was the ancillary submission that he sent to First Investigating Judge Oueidat on 26 July 2010. In it, Younes stated that the investigation was not yet exhausted and asked Oueidat to expand it before issuing his committal order. While Younes explained that Sehnaoui must be interrogated again because a complaint including new criminal actions had been filed against the two companies he represents, he also pointed out the great discrepancy in the statements with regard to the identity of the bodyguards, particularly those who shot at Zein and the club’s other patrons, which warranted further investigation. Hence, Younes demanded the following:

  • That a confrontation be conducted between Zein and the defendants as Zein had positively stated that none of the pictures of the detained bodyguards shown to him matched the person who shot at him.
  • That a confrontation be conducted between Sehnaoui and Raymond Bishara (the club’s chairman), who had stated that Sehnaoui asked him to eject Zein and provided some description of the shooter that matched the description given by other witnesses.
  • That a confrontation be conducted between the witness Badawi Ubayd (one of the club’s owners) and all the detainees and defendants, and that he be shown pictures of all Sehnaoui’s bodyguards as he had said in his statement that he could recognize the person who shot directly at Zein.
  • That a confrontation be conducted between the witness Shafiq al-Khazin and Sehnaoui, and that he be shown the bodyguards’ pictures as he had stated that the shooter was not among the detainees shown to him.


Additionally, Younes asked that Sehnaoui or the bank he owns be tasked with providing a list of the names of its security personnel and their pictures so that they could be shown to the plaintiff, defendants, and witnesses to determine whether any of them also participated in the incident. Younes also requested the names of everyone whom Sehnaoui called or who called him on that date.

However, although Younes’s submission pointed out various gaps and shortcomings, Oueidat insisted on deeming the investigation exhausted and asked the Public Prosecution to draft a submission on the merits, as explained earlier. Hence, the Public Prosecution, represented by Advocate-General Judge Maroun Abu Jawde, challenged Oueidat’s decision before the Indictment Chamber on the basis that it conflicted with Younes’ requests. However, the Indictment Chamber did not accept any part of the challenge except the request to interrogate Sehnaoui as a representative of the two companies, as previously mentioned.

Younes’ second stand aimed at correcting the course of the investigation by charging Sehnaoui personally with a felony under articles 213, 201, and 547 of the Penal Code (the submission on 8 March 2011) based on serious suspicion that he had commanded his bodyguards to attack and shoot Zein with an intent to kill, thereby “organizing their crime and managing their action”. Unlike some of the judges, who – as previously explained – did not justify their decisions, Younes supported his charge with the testimonies of nine witnesses who were attending, employed by, or in charge of the club, all of which overlapped with Zein’s statements. Most notably, some of these testimonies mentioned that Sehnaoui pointed out Zein to one of his bodyguards (a massive man wearing a green coat) before that bodyguard endeavored to shoot directly at Zein. Younes’ submission again requested that Sehnaoui be interrogated, pursuant to the charge against him.

Yet once again, Investigating Judge Sidki (who had replaced Oueidat after the latter’s decision was overturned) rejected Younes’ submission, declaring the investigation closed and asking him to make another submission regarding the merits.

Younes then took his third stand to correct the course of the case by appealing Sidki’s decision before the Indictment Chamber. In this submission, he included his conception of the Public Prosecution’s role and its duty to defend society. One of its most important statements read, “public prosecution is vested in Public Prosecution judges, who are responsible for initiating and exercising it in the name of the society whose values and principles they represent, and who have no right to neglect or relinquish it or bargain or compromise over it”. His appeal also stated that Sidki’s conclusion that his submission included no new facts to support the charge is one “that could, in any case, only be reached after an extended and branching investigation undertaken by the investigating judge himself”.

In fact, the Indictment Chamber adopted Younes’ viewpoint, overturned Sidki’s decision, and hence upheld Younes’ decision to charge Sehnaoui on 22 June 2011. However, instead of returning the case to the investigating judges, the Indictment Chamber exercised its power to take over the investigation itself, i.e. to address the case’s merits. The Indictment Chamber’s motivation seemed to be to ease the confrontation that Younes had instigated with the investigating judges via his submissions and by challenging their decisions before it. However, it was not long before this confrontation became one between Younes and the Indictment Chamber.

This occurred on 21 September 2011, when Younes’ took his fourth stand by asking the Indictment Chamber to order Sehnaoui’s arrest while he was still present after attending an interrogation approximately a year and a half after his previous one. In his request, Younes listed the reasons that Sehnaoui must be detained, including the gravity and seriousness of his actions and the serious suspicion and evidence against him. However, the Indictment Chamber went against Younes’ opinion and released Sehnaoui on bail for LL20 million, as previously explained.

Thereafter, the case in the Public Prosecution was transferred from Younes to Yakzan, who assumed the task of rescuing the Indictment Chamber from the charges against Sehnaoui. This she did by making a submission that ultimately asked for Sehnaoui not to be tried because the evidence against him was insufficient, as previously explained.

What Does This Case Teach Us?

The details of this case teach us much about judges, the judiciary, the course that cases take, and, most importantly, the art and practices of impunity and the social dangers arising from them. Most revealingly, it took approximately nine years from the date of the crime for the Criminal Court to ascertain that none of the defendants referred to it for the attempted murder matched the description of the actual perpetrator – the very same conclusion that Judge Younes had expressed early in the investigation, that necessitated expanding the investigation, and that was ignored by all the judicial bodies involved. Had they listened to Younes, the outcome would not have been this poor. The most important lessons that we can draw from this case are the following:

Lesson 1: Variation in Judges’ Morality, Integrity, and Independence

The case’s first lesson is the great variation among the judges involved in terms of morality, integrity, and independence. This lesson is especially impactful as most of these judges displayed, via their decisions, behaviors that do not accord with the duties and ethics that every judge is supposed to possess. These behaviors would not have been so blatant had Judge Younes (who represented the ideal of a judge who performs their functions with independence) not persistently reminded them of the case evidence and facts and embarrassed them by submitting one request after another.

While Younes distinguished himself by rigidly performing his duty to defend – as a Public Prosecution representative – the rights of society, the decisions of the investigating judges and Indictment Chamber and the stances of other Public Prosecution judges (such as Miamari and Yakzan) were distinguished by their alignment with Sehnaoui’s requests and interests and bias toward them and against truth and public interest. These decisions fall into two categories: they were either devoid of any explanation or based on flimsy explanation that withstands no serious scrutiny. The best examples include Oueidat’s dismissal of all the testimonies against Sehnaoui because of the nature of the venue and the assumption that the witnesses were drunk, Sidki’s distortion of the Indictment Chamber’s decision that Sehnaoui must be questioned, and Acting Appellate Public Prosecutor Yakzan’s conclusion that the evidence against Sehnaoui was insufficient even though Younes had persistently enumerated the many testimonies and statements against him (a conclusion that the Indictment Chamber quickly confirmed, ignoring all the evidence in its possession).

This insufficient and flimsy explanation led to the dilution of the truth, the indictment of people innocent of their charges, and the anonymization of the true perpetrators, as the Criminal Court concluded.

Lesson 2: The Disadvantages of the Judiciary’s Organization, or Missing Reward and Punishment

The second lesson from this case and its aftermath concerns judicial organization. How did the bodies overseeing the administration or accountability of the judiciary approach the judges’ stances in this case, particularly after the Criminal Court’s ruling exposed the investigation’s alignment with Sehnaoui’s interests and lack of seriousness? We are not aware of any measure taken in this case, and it is unlikely that either the Supreme Judicial Council or the Judicial Inspection Authority have scrutinized it or any of its details. On the other hand, the careers of the judges involved corroborate – quite concerningly – what the Legal Agenda has concluded in many of its articles, namely that judges’ career advancement depends more on their proximity to political forces and influential figures than on their competence or integrity.

This is particularly evident from the careers of Oueidat (who was appointed cassation public prosecutor by a governmental decree in September 2019), Roukoz Rizk (who was appointed president of a Court of Cassation chamber by the judicial personnel charts decree issued in 2017 and is currently a Supreme Judicial Council member), and Sidki (who was appointed president of the Beirut Criminal Court by the 2017 personnel charts). Their advancement is evidence that they faced no disciplinary action. As for Yakzan, she faced disciplinary action for approving the release of drug trafficking suspects after the media raised the matter, but she faced no discipline for her submission in the Maison Blanche case, which was a graver issue. Note also that Judge Roukoz Rizk issued, in his capacity as president of the Beirut Publications Court, a ruling accepting Yakzan’s claim against the newspaper Al-Akhbar and journalist Mohamed Nazzal for publishing material about her stance in the drugs case, and the court awarded her high compensation.

In contrast, recent developments have shown that the Supreme Judicial Council is extremely cautious toward Judge Younes. The council rejected Minister of Justice Marie-Claude Najm’s proposal to appoint him Judicial Council investigator in the case of the Beirut port explosion, first in August 2020 and then again in February 2021 (after Judge Fadi Sawan was removed from it). In August 2020, Younes issued a harshly worded and very revealing statement in this regard. The statement contained his testimony about some of the things he had experienced in the judiciary, including in the Maison Blanche case. Its most important section reads:

“I am the judge who has never declared that he lacks jurisdiction, knowledge, or ability. In 2010, I stood alone in confronting the grim crime at Le Maison Blanche. Everyone raced and competed to bury the truth and exonerate the influential, so only the minor criminals got their punishment – or perhaps they didn’t get punished.”

Younes went beyond the Maison Blanche case to describe some of his colleagues’ practices aimed at obtaining judicial positions after rumors that he is close to a particular political faction had spread in the media:


“Let others who stood at the doorsteps of one political faction or another in order to snag and capture the highest positions thank, disown, or disavow this or that faction. Let others who visited, clandestinely or perhaps openly, the icon of one political faction or another be ashamed of their actions.”

The end of Younes’ statement may constitute his most profound comment on the judiciary’s situation and the interference and influence affecting it: “He’s difficult, it has been said. That is true. But it is also a compliment, for I am difficult to those who want a submissive, subservient, and acquiescent judge”.

Lesson 3: Practices that Discriminate Among Litigants

Several discriminatory practices appeared blatantly in this case.

The first was the effort to forgo summoning Sehnaoui, which reflects consideration for his influence and status. Lengthy measures were required just to ensure that he was interviewed. The Public Prosecution had to file two appeals to the Indictment Chamber and two submissions to the two investigating judges to finally have him interviewed a second time, approximately a year and a half after his first interrogation. The second interrogation would never have occurred were it not for Younes’ bravery and determination to embarrass the judges examining the case – a factor rarely present in other cases. Usually, the need to summon powerful and influential figures is disregarded without any resistance from any of the judicial bodies concerned.

The second is the failure to detain Sehnaoui, which confirms that deprivation of liberty applies only to people who lack influence. He was released following his first interrogation with the Public Prosecution’s blessing even though several of his bodyguards were detained for months after the crime. Similarly, he was released after his second interrogation in contravention of the Public Prosecution’s preference to arrest him.

The third is the refusal to expand the investigation. Investigating judges Oueidat and Sidki and the Indictment Chamber all dismissed the Public Prosecution’s requests to expand the investigation despite significant reasons to do so, which Younes explained in multiple submissions. Their refusals contained no explanation other than that the investigation was exhausted or the assumption that the purpose of nightlife is intoxication, as previously explained. In effect, this refusal deflected charges from people whom serious evidence implicated in attempted murder and indicted people whom ample evidence suggested were not embroiled in this crime, ultimately leading to the latter’s actual acquittal by the Criminal Court.

The fourth is the discrimination in the legal characterization of the actions. Early in the case, the appellate public prosecutor charged Sehnaoui (who was then in hiding) with the crime of threatening bodily harm (not even threatening death), which is a misdemeanor, while charging four of his bodyguards with the felony of attempted murder.

The fifth is the adoption of different criteria for evaluating the evidence based on the power of the people concerned. While the Legal Agenda has documented that the Public Prosecution offices charge socially marginalized people with crimes even in the absence of any evidence or based only on the plaintiffs’ statements, this case showed, conversely, the inclination of Public Prosecution offices and investigating judges to ignore a collection of evidence all pointing in one direction by deeming it flimsy and insufficient even for charges or indictment, all on the basis of explanation that withstands no serious debate.

Lesson 4: Practices of Evading Trial

Besides the above, this case is an important testament to impunity practices as the Criminal Court ultimately issued a ruling on the crime without managing to identify its perpetrator nine years after its occurrence.

In addition to the aforementioned discriminatory practices that spare influential people from prosecution, this case also reveals how the judicial procedures required by the various stages of prosecution – particularly in the Public Prosecution and investigating judiciary – are harnessed to filter out many of the criminal liabilities and, in practice, distort the facts and define the liabilities one way or another. These stages appear to form great machinery that subjugates the truth to the calculations and influence inside the judiciary and ultimately manufactures a new truth – namely judicial truth – that diverges further from the real truth the more judges lack integrity and neutrality.

In this sense, the Indictment Chamber, via its indictment in this case, defined the scope of what is judicially possible, and it did so very narrowly in comparison to what the evidence showed. This scope then restricted the Criminal Court, preventing it from performing its role in identifying the crime’s perpetrators and determining their liabilities as the true perpetrators were never referred to it. This case explains the political forces’ insistence on appointing judges close to them, particularly in the Public Prosecution and investigating judiciary given their roles in highlighting or obscuring criminal liabilities.

Lesson 5: The Dangers of Interference and Discrimination in the Judiciary

Finally, this case and its ramifications provide exceptional insight into the dangers posed by practices of interference and discrimination in the judiciary. In particular, the case reinforced a sense of power and immunity to restrictions, laws, judicial accountability, and therefore punishment. These effects extend beyond Sehnaoui and his bodyguards to everyone who enjoys a similar position. The case also motivates people who feel that they still lack such a position to strive to acquire more power and influence to obtain the gift of immunity from the law and judiciary. Below, we will provide just five examples of crimes that would not have occurred were it not for this excessive sense of power and impunity.

The first example involves Nammur and Simon (the two bodyguards who were not indicted despite the evidence and whom the Criminal Court mentioned in the conclusion of its ruling). In March 2012 – i.e. two years later – they went on to murder Elie Naaman in a public place in broad daylight.

The second example involves Tarek Yatim, one of the bodyguards released nine months after the Maison Blanche crime even though he was among the bodyguards who opened fire. In March 2012, he went on to commit the heinous crime of severing the ear of the sports teacher in Zahret El-Ihsan School. Approximately two months later he was once again released. Here, too, Judge Younes appealed the investigating judge’s decision to release Yatim, arguing that, “The gravity of the crimes imputed to him and the seriousness of their physical, psychological, material, and immaterial effects necessitates that Yatim and those with him be kept detained, bearing in mind that he has a rich history of attacking people and their livelihoods and has been convicted in a drugs case”. Younes argued that “If [Yatim’s crimes] indicate anything, it is a spirit of arrogance, hubris, bullying, and contempt for all law and legality, a spirit that could be nourished by negligence and misplaced inaction in a case whose dimensions, goals, and significance extend beyond its parties to a society whose values are battered, whose sovereignty is violated, whose dignity is trampled, and whose security and safety are considered fair game… a society that expects the judiciary alone to be the protector and deterrent”. Despite all of Younes’ warnings, the Beirut Indictment Chamber upheld Yatim’s release, only for him to continue his criminal career.

The third example involves Yatim again after he was released twice in the previously detailed serious crimes.. In 2015, Yatim went on to murderer George al-Reef, once again in broad daylight, in a public place before dozens of witnesses, and without any justification. Younes clearly mentioned this incident in his August 2020 statement: “In 2012, I stood alone in opposing the release of the bodyguards of a wealthy and domineering influential figure after they severed the ear of the sports teacher at Zahret El-Ihsan School. My appeal was dismissed, and subsequently, Tariq Yatim was easily able to murder George al-Reef”. At the time, the Legal Agenda wrote that “interference in the judiciary kills” in reference to the fact that the inaction toward Yatim bears much of the responsibility for his perpetration of further crimes capriciously and without any justification.

The fourth example involves Sehnaoui himself. Like many bankers, he has handled and discriminated among depositors however he wishes (and continues to do so), as though he may violate all laws and rights without accountability. This attitude was clearly evident when he turned his summons to testify in the case of smuggling money abroad into an opportunity to defame the judge who had dared act against him (Public Prosecutor in Mount Lebanon Ghada Aoun). Consequently, news was leaked suggesting that the Supreme Judicial Council was preparing to dismiss Aoun from the judiciary under Article 95 of the Judicial Judiciary Organization Law and that Oueidat intended to use his hierarchical authority as cassation public prosecutor to strip her of her powers to investigate financial crimes and corruption (15 April 2021).

Finally, the case’s motivational effect is exemplified by a similar crime perpetrated by the bodyguards of a person who has or aspires to Sehnaoui’s status, namely Marwan Kheireddine, chairman of the AM Bank. This crime is the assault on economic journalist Mohammad Zbeeb. Here too, the Public Prosecution charged the bodyguards, who confessed to their involvement, without going to the trouble of summoning Kheireddine even for an interview, even though the bodyguards said that their only motivation for the assault was to defend their employer’s dignity after Zbeeb dared criticize him.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.

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