‘No evidence’ Hizbollah leaders were behind murder of Rafiq Hariri

A decade-long international investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri has found no evidence that the leaders of Iran-backed paramilitary Hizbollah were responsible for his killing, nor any “direct evidence” implicating the Syrian regime.
The February 14 2005 suicide bombing that killed Hariri and 21 other people was a defining moment in the Middle East’s modern history, ultimately catalysing the end of almost three decades of Syrian military occupation of Lebanon.
Although the assassination was “undoubtedly a political act” and “Syria and Hizbollah may have had motives to eliminate” Hariri, David Re, presiding judge of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, said: “There is no evidence that the Hizbollah leadership had any involvement in Mr Hariri’s murder and there is no direct evidence of Syrian involvement.”

The UN-backed tribunal heard charges against four Hizbollah members in absentia, including conspiracy to murder and commit terrorist acts. The judges ruled unanimously that one of the defendants, Salim Ayyash, was guilty on all counts. But it cleared his three co-defendants, saying there was not sufficient evidence to pin the allegations on them.
“For many people this is going to be justice delayed, justice denied,” said Maha Yahya, director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center think-tank. “Bottom line, no one is going to be held accountable for a crime that, in the words of the judges, was meant to destabilise Lebanon.”
Almost two tonnes of explosives were detonated in the 2005 attack, shaking Beirut and leaving a 1.9m deep crater. The investigation could not identify the suicide bomber but found “92 human parts” belonging to an unknown man who was “most likely” the bomber, said Judge Janet Nosworthy.
A supporter of the former prime minister outside the tribunal in The Hague on Tuesday © Getty Images
The prosecution’s case had largely rested on patterns of mobile communications, which they alleged showed that the defendants planned and carried out the assassination.
The UN-convened trial has been 15 years in the making, after a series of political assassinations prompted Lebanon’s government in late 2005 to ask the UN for an international tribunal to investigate. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon did not open until March 2009.
As Lebanon’s first post-civil war prime minister, Hariri was a pivotal figure and one of the Middle East’s most recognisable leaders. Fondly remembered by many Lebanese as having presided during a period of relative prosperity, the tycoon is widely credited with rebuilding downtown Beirut and jolting the country’s economy back into life by attracting large investments from the Gulf, where he had strong business ties.

Reading of the judgment at The Hague was postponed after the August 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, which killed about 180 people, injured thousands and wrecked swaths of the capital. The government has stepped down, while Lebanon faces its worst economic crisis since the civil war ended in 1990.
The financial breakdown of the past year has, for some, dented Hariri’s reputation, as he and his political allies were founders of the now collapsed economic system and a form of governance seen as kleptocratic. His son, Saad Hariri, resigned as prime minister in the face of mass anti-corruption protests that erupted in October last year.
“We are still living today with the [political] ripple effect of the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri,” said Ms Yahya. Mass protests and international pressure that followed “got the Syrians out” but ultimately opened space for Hizbollah to become integrated into Lebanon’s government, she said.
Syria has long been suspected as being behind the assassination because Hariri appeared to threaten the neighbouring regime’s control of Lebanon. Although he stepped down as prime minister in October 2004, he was planning to run again on an anti-Syrian ticket and was co-ordinating efforts with other Lebanese political leaders to mount an opposition to its neighbours’ influence.
Lebanon’s Hizbollah, a Shia Islamist paramilitary and political party, is allied to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The four men accused of conspiracy to carry out the attack, who stood trial in absentia, were all supporters of Hizbollah. A fifth alleged conspirator, Mustafa Badreddine, was killed fighting in Syria in 2016, according to Hizbollah, which has vowed not to hand over the four remaining defendants. It is unclear where they are.
The trial said it had heard evidence that Hariri and Hizbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah had “good” relations. Yet it also said the murdered leader was making regular payments of “millions” of dollars to Syria’s military intelligence chief for Lebanon, “seen as a form of blackmail in order to maintain the relationship”. The court did not clarify why the money was being paid.

Uber ruling shows gig economy is running out of road

How can you be sacked from a job you never had, by an employer who never employed you?
Ask a gig worker. “While there is no obligation to accept any work with Deliveroo, you . . . are among the riders with the lowest percentage of deliveries accepted while ‘available’ in the app in your area,” explained the food delivery company in an email to one of its ostensibly self-employed couriers. “As a result, we have decided that we will no longer be offering you work under your Supplier Agreement.”
This sort of doublespeak is not a one-off. A few years ago I obtained an internal document that Deliveroo had circulated to its staff — a list of “dos” and “don’ts” for how to communicate with couriers. Don’t say “we pay you every two weeks”, do say “rider invoices are paid fortnightly”, it suggested. Don’t say “uniform”, do say “branded clothing”.

The contorted language is an indication of the tension at the heart of the gig economy. Companies such as Uber, Lyft and Deliveroo classify workers as self-employed, but use technology to tightly control, monitor and evaluate them. Algorithmic management was the innovation that enabled gig economy companies to transform a sea of casual workers into a standardised, seamless, on-demand service. It allowed companies to assume much of the power of employers with none of the responsibility. To many, it represented the future of work. But it has proved their undoing.
Although gig workers can choose when to log on to their apps to work, judges in many jurisdictions have concluded this is not a sufficient level of freedom to make them truly self-employed. Now matters have come to a head. In California, Uber and Lyft have been given just days to reclassify their drivers as employees, with minimum wage, sick pay and other rights, unless they win a last-minute delay. In the UK, Uber awaits a Supreme Court ruling on the same question, having lost its case in every lower court.
It is important not to be misty-eyed about what these rulings mean for gig workers. “Be your own boss” is a misleading promise, but it appeals to people for a reason. Many other jobs at the bottom of the labour market involve unpredictable and inflexible schedules. Even those jobs are growing scarce. Unemployment in California is about 15 per cent. If Uber and Lyft suspend operations in the state, it will be a painful moment to put people out of work.
But these are not reasons to continue to allow gig companies to ignore rules that apply to everyone else. Yaseen Aslam, one of two Uber drivers who brought the UK case, says he is often asked whether victory would hurt the drivers he hopes to help. But that has been the argument against labour regulation throughout history. “What’s the point in having these laws if someone like Uber can come in and make a mockery of it all?” he asks. Uber and Lyft have said the California ruling would force them to raise prices by 20 to 120 per cent — an indication of how much money they have been saving relative to their law-abiding competitors.
Yet the gig companies are hardly making excess profit by exploiting workers. The reality is stranger than that. They charge customers so little that every big gig company loses money, even with their labour costs compressed. The bigger they get, the more money they lose. The prospectus for Uber’s initial public offering last year showed that in some cases, the company actually pays drivers more than the fare it charges to customers.
This has been possible thanks to cash from deep-pocketed investors. Stranger still, SoftBank, which runs the $100bn Vision Fund, is funnelling money to gig companies that are in direct competition with each other, funding both sides in a price race to the bottom.

The existential question for gig companies is how much demand will remain for their services when they stop being unfeasibly cheap. Of course consumers love them now, but who doesn’t like things that cost less than their value? If ride-hailing becomes too expensive, people can use old-fashioned cabs, public transport or their own cars. If food delivery becomes too expensive, people can go back to picking it up themselves.
Before Uber’s IPO last year, I asked a senior executive why he thought the company was worth $100bn. “Because it’s transformed the world,” he replied with evangelical vim. But there was always something unreal about an industry that charges less for its services than it costs to supply them, and ignores labour regulations to which everyone else must adhere. This is the year that reality finally creeps in. The gig economy wasn’t the future of work after all. In fact, it might not have a future at all.

Chrystia Freeland set to be named Canada’s finance minister

Justin Trudeau is set to name deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland as Canada’s new finance minister and steer the country through its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic after Bill Morneau resigned from the position on Monday.
Ms Freeland, a former journalist with the Financial Times who won praise for her handling of trade talks with Washington as foreign affairs minister during the Liberal government’s first term, will be the first woman to serve as federal finance minister. 
Mr Morneau abruptly resigned on Monday following days of speculation about a growing rift between him and Mr Trudeau.

In the looming cabinet shuffle, which was first reported by CTV News, Ms Freeland is expected to keep her job as deputy prime minister while giving up her role as minister for intergovernmental affairs. The formal announcement is expected later on Tuesday.
In her new job Ms Freeland will oversee the rebuilding of Canada’s economy after the Covid-19 crisis blew a hole in the country’s finances and sent its economy into freefall.
While economic activity improved in May and June, the country’s gross domestic product is forecast to have collapsed 12 per cent in the second quarter, Statistics Canada warned recently. Final data on the quarter will be released at the end of this month.
Meanwhile, the federal deficit has ballooned to C$343bn ($260bn) as Ottawa unleashed a string of huge spending initiatives to counter the pandemic’s hit to households, businesses and local governments.