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Lebanese justice on Monday rejected complaints from deputies who wanted to dismiss the judge in charge of the investigation into the double explosion at the port of Beirut. The investigations will be able to resume immediately.
An appeals court in Lebanon on Monday, October 4, rejected complaints from deputies seeking to relinquish Tarek Bitar, the judge in charge of the investigation into the explosions at the port of Beirut, paving the way for an immediate resumption of the investigations, according to a judicial source.
The devastating explosions, which occurred on August 4, 2020 and blamed on the authorities’ own admission to the storage without precautionary measures of huge quantities of ammonium nitrate, left more than 200 dead, more than 6,500 injured and devastated neighborhoods entire capital.
On September 27, Judge Tarek Bitar had to suspend the investigation after the complaint of MP Nohad al-Machnouk, who referred to a technical flaw on the basis of a constitutional article stipulating the prosecution of those responsible by the High Court of Justice alone. .
>> To read: Explosions at the port of Beirut: who wants the skin of judge Tarek Bitar?
Nohad al-Machnouk, a former minister, is suspected of “negligence and shortcomings” in connection with the investigation. Two other deputies and ex-ministers, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaayter, also suspected in the investigation, had filed a similar complaint.
“The Court of Appeal rejected the complaints lodged by deputies Machnouk, Khalil and Zaayter demanding the relinquishment of judge (Tarek) Bitar (…) considering that it was not competent in the matter”, indicated to AFP the judicial source. “As of now (the judge) Bitar can resume his investigations and could summon the three deputies for questioning in the near future,” she added.
Another political obstacle
Pointed out for criminal negligence, the Lebanese authorities rejected any international investigation, before relieving the first investigator in February after the indictment of senior officials.
Since he inherited the case, Tarek Bitar has summoned ex-Prime Minister Hassan Diab and four ex-ministers, including the three deputies at the origin of the complaints, with a view to their indictment, demanding the lifting of their immunity. But Parliament refused.
The suspension of the investigation had been perceived as yet another political obstacle to the work of justice.
For their part, the families of the victims describe Tarek Bitar as a rigorous magistrate anxious to unravel the truth in a case that he sees as a mission.
“Some seem to panic because of the serious work that Judge Bitar is carrying out,” said Antonella Hitti, sister of a victim, contacted by telephone by France 24. “The threats against him reinforce the idea that he is doing good work and that the compass of its investigation points in the right direction, that is to say to those who hide to escape their responsibilities and who are afraid to the point of doing their utmost to dismiss him. “
Held in high esteem by his colleagues
On August 4, 2020, his brother Najib Hitti, his cousin Charbel Hitti and his brother-in-law Charbel Karam were killed in the port of Beirut, where their team of firefighters had been sent a few minutes before the explosions.
Originally from the Akkar region (in northern Lebanon) and held in high esteem by his colleagues, the 46-year-old judge seems hermetic to threats and pressures. Even when it is Hassan Nasrallah himself who attacks him, as he did in a televised speech on August 8. “The investigation is politicized”, declared the Secretary General of Hezbollah in particular. “That is [le juge Tarek Bitar] must work […] clearly, either justice must find another judge. “
“We know that the head of Hezbollah does not usually speak so often, but since Tarek Bitar was appointed he has made several speeches in which he has targeted the judge and his investigation, is- Does this mean that he is embarrassed by his work? “asks Antonella Hitti.
Appointed at the head of this investigation in February 2021, while he had presided over the Criminal Court since 2017, Judge Tarek Bitar is not the first magistrate to be subjected to all kinds of pressure in the context of this case. Before him, Judge Fadi Sawan had been charged with the same case, but he was challenged on February 18 after the Court of Cassation responded favorably to a request filed by two former ministers whom he had indicted for negligence.