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Court to resume ‘tobacco case’ trials today

By Rana Husseini - Apr 02,2019 - Last updated at Apr 02,2019

AMMAN — The State Security Court (SSC) is expected to resume the trials of dozens of defendants in the so-called “tobacco case” today, following a decision by a higher court that the case was within the SSC’s jurisdiction.

The SSC received a decision from the Court of Cassation that the charges the defendants face fall within its jurisdiction, and the military prosecutor has summoned witnesses to testify, a senior judicial source said.

The SCC had to postpone the trial in recent weeks after one of the lawyers contested the court’s jurisdiction over the case and demanded that his clients be tried in civil courts.

The 29 defendants and 25 companies have been charged with acts that endanger society’s safety, security and economic resources, as well as acts that change the state’s economic structure or endanger society’s basic conditions.

Other charges included accepting or providing bribes to carry out illegal acts, abusing power and money laundering, as well as tax evasion, among others.

All of the defendants previously pleaded not guilty to the charges during their opening trial last week.
Six other defendants, who are still at large, have also been charged with the same offences.

The SSC indictment sheet in the “tobacco case” includes charges against a minister and former director of the Jordan Customs Department (JCD) Wadah Hmoud, who allegedly cooperated with the main suspect in the case, Awni Mutee, to facilitate the smuggling of tobacco in exchange for bribes.

The tobacco factory case, which involved the illegal manufacturing, faking and smuggling of cigarettes, has remained in the media spotlight for months.

In addition to Hmoud, several other officials and former officials were also allegedly involved in the case, including former minister Musa Oweis, Lt. Gen. Salem Khasawneh and Lt. Gen. Wael Smadi from the JCD, former adviser Wahab Awamleh and free trade zone official Muhieldin Ghitan.

Mutee, the primary suspect in the case, reportedly fled the country to Lebanon last year, one day ahead of a crackdown on an alleged illegal tobacco manufacturing and smuggling factory. Mutee was later extradited from Turkey.

The SSC’s indictment list chronicled years of cooperation in the illegal operation between Mutee and Hmoud, in which the latter allegedly received payments from the former in exchange for facilitating the smuggling process.

The facilitation process reportedly included transferring or referring to retirement any employee who would impede the smuggling of tobacco, as well as diverting inspection activities into Mutee’s business, according to the court document.

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