Senior judge investigating last year’s massive explosion in Beirut port suspended work on the case after being formally informed that a former cabinet minister submitted a recusal request
BEIRUT – The senior judge investigating last year’s massive explosion in the port of Beirut suspended his work on the case on Monday after being formally informed that a former cabinet minister had submitted a recusal request.
Judge Tarek Bitar, the second judge to lead the complicated and thorny investigation, has canceled the interrogation of a former military intelligence general, scheduled for Monday. The appeals court must now decide whether or not to dismiss the case.
This development comes amid a growing campaign by the Lebanese political class against Bitar, who took over the post in February after his predecessor, Fadi Sawwan, was sacked following similar legal challenges by senior officials he said. had accused of negligence which led to the explosion.
On August 4, 2020, hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded, killing at least 214 people, injuring more than 6,000 and devastating neighboring neighborhoods.
Bitar’s impeachment, if it occurs, would likely be the final blow to the investigation, making it highly unlikely that a third judge would take office amid threats from members of the country’s political elite who have squeezed ranks in their efforts to block the investigation. .
The families of the victims of the explosion have already called for an international investigation, not trusting the Lebanese investigation. Lebanon is known for a culture of impunity that has prevailed for decades, including among entrenched political elites.
Bitar’s disappearance began in July when he announced his intention to prosecute senior Lebanese officials and summoned to question outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab, three former cabinet ministers and senior security officials.
None showed up for questioning; parliament did not lift the immunity of those summoned – a necessary step before any prosecution – while Diab’s office and then interior minister, Mohamed Fehmi, refused to let Bitar question the heads of two government agencies. security.
Former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, also involved in the investigation, filed a request for dismissal of the judge on Friday.