Lebanon charges officer for framing actor as Israel agent

Beirut (AFP) –


A Lebanese court on Tuesday charged a high-ranking officer with "fabricating" evidence that a prominent actor and writer had been illegally conspiring with Israel, a judicial source told AFP.

Lebanon, which technically remains at war with its southern neighbour, upholds a boycott of Israeli products and of contact with its nationals.

Lieutenant Colonel Suzanne Hajj "was charged with fabricating the case of collaboration with Israel brought against actor Ziad Itani, as well as hacking websites and inventing non-existent crimes", the judicial source said.

Hajj, who headed a unit in Lebanon's Internal Security Forces tasked with fighting cybercrime, was detained for questioning in March over suspicions she had enlisted the help of a hacker to fabricate conversations between Itani and an Israeli woman.

She remained in detention until Tuesday, and was released on the condition that she would continue to appear at the military tribunal for hearings, the source said.

The charges against her are yet another chapter in the strange case.

Lebanese were shocked when news broke in November that Itani had allegedly confessed to having been "tasked to monitor a group of high-level political figures" and their associates on behalf of Israel.

People close to the actor said his "confession" was extracted under duress, though the authorities have denied the accusation.

Lebanese authorities released him in March and simultaneously issued an arrest warrant for Hajj, who they suspected of having framed him.

At the time, a source close to the investigation said Hajj had sought revenge against Itani after he shed light on her liking a controversial post on Twitter last year, after which she was demoted.

Itani has shot to prominence in recent years because of a series of comedy plays on Beirut, its customs and the transformations it has undergone in recent decades.

The works -- particularly "Beirut Tariq al-Jdideh", which refers to a majority-Sunni neighbourhood of the city -- have been very well-received.

Before becoming an actor, Itani worked as a journalist with Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen television channel and with various regional newspapers.