Reuters International

Former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha smiles at his house after being released in Beirut, Lebanon, in this January 14, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/Files

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese former minister convicted last year of smuggling explosives and planning attacks had his jail sentence increased to nine years and nine months in court on Friday after a retrial.

Former information minister Michel Samaha, who has close ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was detained in August 2012 and sentenced in 2015 to four and a half years.

The court set the longer sentence at 13 years, but in Lebanon a prison year is equivalent to nine months.

Samaha, who was freed on bail in January pending a retrial, confessed to the charges before the first sentence was handed down, and gave details of a plot allegedly devised with Syria's security chief Ali Malmuk.

Then Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi had described the shorter sentence as a travesty of justice.

The case, which also produced indictments against two Syrian officials including a top general, exposed Lebanon's political divisions between parties that support and oppose Assad.

Syria is Lebanon's largest neighbour and before its civil war had long played a dominant role in the tiny Mediterranean country.

Rifi resigned in February, partly due to Samaha's release on bail, which he said showed the Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, an ally of Assad, was causing paralysis in state institutions.

His bail was also cited by Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir as evidence of Hezbollah's growing clout in the country, as Riyadh cut aid to Lebanon as part of efforts to isolate its main regional rival Iran.

(Reporting By Laila Bassam and Angus McDowall; editing by John Stonestreet)

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