Rescued by the army to the Defence Ministry to Yarze.
I remember as if it were today. The Lebanese Army tanks rolled in, at last, and I realized that the bitter rivalry between the Christian commanders had left us all in the lurch. We had fallen flat and were drifting down, Elie Hobeika, Elie Karam and myself went aboard the first tank of the convoy along with Captain Paul Matar. We were finally safe, but beat. We headed towards the Defense Ministry in Yarzeh as agreed, in full safety. Captain Mattar instructed his soldiers that orders were to be taken from me, Cobra, during the “expedition”.
Along the way, we received information that Maroun Mashaalani’s men had set an ambush at the Hazmieh Chevrolet junction. Maroun Mashaalani, who was one of the most devoted of Hobeika’s partisans, had been bought off by Geagea. By a twist of fate, nobody found it out. It was later discovered that it was Mashaalani who stormed my house one night and claimed I was hiding all of Hobeika’s secret documents. They ransacked the house and bullied me. The ups and downs are indeed bitter and biting.
We arrived at the Defense Ministry in an appalling physical and mental condition. The militiamen who chose to accompany us were broken down, some were crying. Hobeika, Shaftari and Murr were shown to Michel Aoun’s office. Hobeika had a two-hour long tete-a-tete with Aoun. Karim Pakraduni showed up,unblushing. Hobeika asked him to bring his wife and son from Adma to the Ministry without delay. Paul Ariss, Mario Simonides,
Percy Kemp, Joseph Asmar and Michel Zouein joined us a little later. We spent the longest and most terrifying night of our lives, numb and dumb, incapable either of thinking or weighing the all-out situation or our own fate and future. It was really a tragedy.
When Paul Ariss finished his telephone calls and bags full of cash money arrived, we realized it was the END. Hobeika’s lieutenants, Shaftari, Ariss, and G. Melco Percy, Asmar, Zouein got hold of a bag supposedly to pay off respective elements or at least secure protection for them. Instead, they all, without exception, sent the boys away telling them, in front of me, “That’s your look out boys. Sort it out for yourselves”.
The money that belonged to the Christians and the Christian “Cause” went into the pocket of a bunch of no-good mobsters fearing neither God nor man. The best example of this was Said Ghantous, one of the most valiant, resistant and devoted fellow in Hobeika’s close group. Ghantous was the daredevil who never hesitated to plunge into whatever dangerous and dirty job for his commanders, Hobeika and Shaftari. When he was “offered” 3,000 Lebanese pounds by Shaftari to get lost, the “hero” burst into tears. Like Ghantous, many of the boys walked away, head down and surrendered to Geagea.
Although Hobeika pretended to exile himself to Brazil, the real plan was with the Syrians to settle in Zahleh in force. Elie Hobeika was lying as he has always did. He destroyed Christians, civilians and militiamen to remain Abou Jamal’s (Khaddam) protégé. When the boys, in despair, kept asking what they should do, Asaad Shaftari confidently replied that we would all rally in Zahleh.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Army Puma helicopters arrived to take us to Cyprus. Aboard, there were Elie Hobeika and his wife and son, Mario’s wife and children, Shaftari’s wife and son, Zouheir Saleh, Bourvil and myself. We were flown in Rafik Hariri’s private plane to the le Bourget airport in France. Gibran Tueni and Hariri’s businessman, Mr. El Dada were waiting for us there. Hobeika refused to greet Tueni whom he believed was rejoicing at his defeat. Hobeika and his family stayed at Hariri’s residence. We were taken to El Dada’s office where we were instructed not to move because it was believed that the Palestinians were out to kill us, to get even with Sabra and Chatilla.
Little by little about 40 of the “boys” joined us and checked into various hotels in Paris while others flew to the United States. Hariri and Hobeika were working on his return to Damascus. The order was soon issued for all of us to leave Paris, without further details as to our destination. We did not know where we were headed until we landed in the Syrian International Airport. Hobeika’s family had moved to Switzerland at Hariri’s residence with a monthly pocket money amounting to 100,000 Swiss francs. Gina had taken her two sisters and Shaftari’s wife along with her, as well as two bodyguards, Touma Suidane and Walid El Zein.
The Syrian President personally accommodated Hobeika with a residence in a luxurious neighborhood of Villa-Street in Mazzeh. We occupied the ground floor. Right on top lived another terrorist, none other than Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto’s brother who had high jacked a plane and was evidently on Syria’s payroll. On the second floor lived Dr. Jaoudat el Marhi, Rifaat el Assad’s former assistant who had changed sides.
Though a six-room apartment, it was appallingly dark, dirty, badly equipped and designed. We spent two months there. Bourvil, Elie Saadeh and I shared a room, Assad Shaftari and Percy Kemp another. Elie Hobeika a room of his own. One room served as Hobeika‘s office. There was a dining room and the sitting room.
When the 40 boys finally joined us, the Syrians moved us to the Airport Hotel and then to Teshrine Hotel close to Hobeika’s house. The Syrian Presidency, as a mark of consideration, placed at his disposal two black Park Avenue cars for him and his escort. The Syrian Command had granted him “carte-blanche” to organize his return to Zahleh. And so he did, and we moved back to Zahleh Lebanon, while he remained in Damascus. The Kadri Hotel in Zahleh was evacuated to accommodate the 40 boys who arrived first. Ghazi Kanaan allowed us to take possession of houses and apartments. The military organization started. The Big Chief, for security sake, remained in Damascus and ran every big or small thing from there, omnipresent and omnipotent.
Shaftari was appointed Deputy, Fuad Nassif became the Finance Manager while Paul Ariss in Paris, squandered poor innocent people’s money. Nassif having displeased the boss, was soon replaced by René Moawad who disposed of the money arbitrarily. He was high-handed and despotic with us. The money was his, just to have a good time with women.
Hobeika felt the need for a man like Ariss. Hobeika sent for him and hooked the money man. The organization was all set. The administration was entrusted to Touma Suidane, military to his brother Charles, and Joseph Asmar was in charge of Internal Affairs and Security. Louis Abou Khalil, as an expert torturer, became the prison warden. George Sabbagh, alias Abou Ayman, handled investigations and questioning. Michel Riachi and George Kfoury, both university professors were his counsel. Nicolas Maakaroun was handed the Kataeb Party’s Office in Zahleh Hobeika’s father was appointed Head of the Fourth Section dealing with supplies, food and fuel. The man Hobeika dared describe, in a recent interview to Tele Lumi6re, as a Saint, is nothing but an unscrupulous crook. He laid hand on the fuel and instead of heating us, he sold it on the black market. He barely thought that we were 300 active young men who were supposed to be well fed, well heated and well treated. I remember him saying time and again impudently, “I am preserving my son’s money!” Big and easy money, I should say. Rafik Harir used to send him every month, $400,000 United States dollar, in an empty video film boxes stacked in suitcases. I used to pick up the “goods” from Hariri’s residence in Abou Remaneh. Michel el Murr’s also sent $150,000 United States dollars monthly payment which Hanna Moussa handed Hobeika personally, right in front of me. We barely cost him $60,000 United States dollars a month. His wife, Gina costs $50,000 per month and the rest went into his pocket and to a Swiss bank.
I recall, his regular trips to Geneva and Paris. When Hobeika could not make the trips himself, he would send his brother-in-law, René Moawad. He had to satisfy his lust for power and the flesh in order to support his luxury mistresses, a vice that showed up at this stage. He needed to fill his secret bank accounts.