Lebanon: the general prosecutor indicted in the case of the explosion of the port

The judge in charge of the investigation into the explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020 continued to defy power on Tuesday by indicting the public prosecutor, an unprecedented decision in the history of Lebanon, rejected by the prosecution.

To everyone’s surprise, Tarek Bitar had decided on Monday to resume his investigation into this explosion which had left more than 215 dead and 6,500 injured, after a suspension of more than a year, despite the enormous political pressure to which he is subject.

He began by indicting two senior security officials on Monday for “potential homicidal intent”.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bitar indicted the attorney general at the Court of Cassation, Ghassan Oueidate, and seven other people, including three magistrates, a judicial official told AFP.

The prosecution rejected all of Judge Bitar’s decisions, telling him that he could not resume his investigation, according to a document obtained by AFP.

“We learned of Judge Bitar’s return through the press. Since he considers the prosecution as non-existent, we also consider it as non-existent,” prosecutor Oueidate told AFP.

The independent judge has no known political affiliation and has alienated most of the political class, including the powerful pro-Iranian Hezbollah who had demanded his replacement.

The Lebanese authorities refuse any international investigation.

“Investigation on the port: Tarek Bitar has gone mad”, headlined Tuesday the daily Al-Akhbar, close to Hezbollah which dominates political life in Lebanon.

The huge explosion of August 4, 2020 was caused by the careless storage of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse at the port.

It was blamed by much of the population on the corruption and negligence of the ruling class, also accused by the families of victims and NGOs of torpedoing the investigation to avoid indictments.

According to the judicial official, Mr. Oueidate had supervised in 2019 an investigation by the security services into cracks in the warehouse where the ammonium nitrate was stored without security measures.

– “American orders” –

A poster bearing the image of judge Tarek Bitar brandished in a demonstration demanding his divestiture of the instruction on the explosion of the port of Beirut, October 14, 2021 (AFP / Archives – -)

Judge Bitar set the dates for the interrogations of 14 people (GOOD: 14), between February 6 and February 13, according to the judicial official. Among them are former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and former ministers.

Mr. Diab, who led the government when the explosion on August 4, 2020, had already refused to appear.

On Monday, he also decided to indict the powerful director of General Security, Abbas Ibrahim, considered close to Hezbollah, and the head of State Security, Tony Saliba, close to outgoing President Michel Aoun.

The magistrate decided to resume the investigation after an attempt by the authorities in recent months to appoint a substitute judge on their pay to bypass him. But she came up short.

However, Judge Bitar had to interrupt his investigation in December 2021, due to around forty lawsuits launched against him by political leaders, in particular those he wanted to question.

The daily Al Akhbar on Tuesday accused the judge of acting “on the basis of American orders and with European judicial support”.

Mr. Bitar had met last week two French magistrates, who came to Beirut as part of the investigation opened in France, French people who were among the victims of the explosion.

The State Department spokesperson assured that the United States “supports the Lebanese authorities and urges them to carry out a prompt and transparent investigation”, according to a tweet Tuesday from the American embassy in Beirut.

“The Lebanese authorities have systematically and shamelessly obstructed the course of justice,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

“Instead of creating new obstacles, the government should take all measures to ensure that the local investigation resumes without political interference,” added the NGO.

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