12 October 2007

Brazil court denies Lebanon's extradition request for fugitive banker

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil: Brazil's Supreme Court denied a Lebanese request to extradite fugitive banker Rana Koleilat, accused of a multimillion-dollar (euro) bank fraud and wanted for questioning in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Victor Mauad, Koleilat's lawyer, said Friday his client is waiting for her passport to be returned and that she had been given eight days to leave the country once it is.

"She doesn't know where she will go yet, probably some country in Europe," Mauad said in a telephone interview, adding his client has both British and Lebanese citizenship. "She's looking for a safe place. She's worried for her life."

A statement posted on the court's Web site said the unanimous decision was based on the lack of extradition treaty between Brazil and Lebanon.

There was no one at the court Friday to comment on the decision because of a national holiday.

Koleilat was arrested in Sao Paulo on March 12, 2006, for allegedly trying to bribe police officers who located her for Interpol. Police said at the time she offered a US$200,000 (€140,000) bribe for her freedom.

Mauad said she had been acquitted of the Brazilian bribery charges and was released from jail Wednesday. He declined to say where she was staying because she fears for her safety.

In April, a United Nations panel investigating Hariri's assassination interrogated her for about five hours at federal police headquarters in Sao Paulo, but police did not release any information about the interrogation.

The U.N. commission is investigating what Koleilat knows about February 2005 truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others and whether money that disappeared from the Al-Madina Bank where she worked was used to finance the attack in Beirut.

Koleilat has said she knows nothing about the missing money or the assassination.

An initial U.N. investigation into Hariri's assassination implicated the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services. Syria denied involvement, but four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals were charged and are in custody. Hariri was seen as an opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon.-(iht)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.