Lebanon’s National News Agency says the country’s appeals court dismissed charges against the lead investigator for the Beirut port explosion
BEIRUT – Lebanon’s appeals court on Monday dismissed charges against the lead investigator of the Beirut port explosion in a ruling that allows him to return to work, the country’s national news agency said .
Monday’s decision came a week after three former cabinet ministers, who are also charged in the inquiry, accused the judge of bias and filed lawsuits demanding his removal.
The challenge automatically suspended the investigation until the decision was made. The appeals court rejected Judge Tarek Bitar’s impeachment request, saying it was outside his jurisdiction. He fined each of the three former ministers 800,000 Lebanese pounds ($ 47 at the black market rate and about $ 530 at the official rate.)
The trial was part of a growing campaign by Lebanese politicians against the investigation into the devastating explosion at the port of August 4, 2020. The explosion heavily destroyed parts of Beirut, killing more than 200 and over 6 000 injured.
The ruling political class, accused by rights groups and the public of knowing about the explosives stored in the port and doing little to protect themselves from it, have closed ranks against Bitar and his predecessor. Both wanted to interview senior political and security officials accused of negligence that led to the explosion.
Bitar returned to the post in February after Judge Fadi Sawwan was also removed from his post following similar legal challenges from senior officials.
Various political leaders accused Bitar of politicizing the investigation, violating the constitution by ignoring the immunity granted to lawmakers and government officials, and attacking some officials and not others.
The suspension of the investigation and repeated attempts to obstruct it angered the families of the victims killed in the explosion, who called Bitar’s investigation a last hope for Lebanese justice. They say the investigation has been marred by repeated political interference and the failure to bring those responsible to justice.
Bitar still faces at least one more legal challenge from a fourth defendant, also a former minister, who raised “legitimate suspicions” against the lead investigator. The highest court in the country must decide the case. Only the highest court, called the Court of Cassation, could then suspend the investigation.