This content was published on Jan 24, 2023 – Jul 12:00,
January 24, 2023 – 12:00
The judicial investigator in the Beirut Port explosion case sued four judges, including the Cassation Public Prosecutor, in an unprecedented measure that was rejected by the Cassation Public Prosecution Office on Tuesday, which heralds a judicial crisis amid political pressures that have obstructed the investigation since its inception.
Despite dozens of lawsuits calling for his dismissal and suspending his investigations for more than a year, Judge Tariq Bitar resumed his investigations into the explosion on Monday. On Tuesday, he set dates for the interrogation of 13 defendants, to take place between February 6 and February 22 of the same month, within the framework of public lawsuits “for crimes of murder, harm, arson, and vandalism, all of which depend on probable intent,” without specific details about the drawbacks. Both defendants.
The appointment of the interrogation came in the wake of his accusation against eight persons, including the Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat, in addition to three other judges, in an unprecedented measure in the history of Lebanon, a country where a culture of impunity prevails for decades and political interference disrupts the work of the constitutional and judicial institutions.
The explosion on August 4, 2020 left more than 215 dead and 6,500 injured. From the beginning, the Lebanese authorities attributed the explosion to the storage of large quantities of ammonium nitrate inside the port without preventive measures, and the outbreak of a fire, the causes of which are unknown. It turned out later that officials at several levels were aware of the dangers of storing the substance and did not move a finger.
A judicial source stated that in 2019, Oweidat oversaw preliminary investigations conducted by the State Security Apparatus about the existence of gaps in Ward No. 12, where a shipment of ammonium nitrate was stored.
Among the eight persons charged, along with the judges, is the Director General of General Security, Abbas Ibrahim, who has good relations with political forces, especially Hezbollah, the most prominent political and military player in Lebanon, and the director of the State Security Agency, Tony Saliba, who is close to former President Michel Aoun.
Bitar had claimed in the summer of 2021 against former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and asked to lift the immunity of deputies at the time, including former Ministers of Works Youssef Fenianos and Ghazi Zuaiter, and former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil.
He also requested permission to interrogate Ibrahim and Saliba.
The previous parliament refused to lift the immunity of deputies who held ministerial positions, which prevented them from being interrogated, and officials refused to grant Bitar permission to interrogate security officials under their authority, and the security forces refrained from executing arrest warrants.
– Reject all decisions –--
Oweidat responded on Tuesday to Bitar’s decisions by directing a letter, the content of which was seen by Agence France-Presse, to “the judicial investigator whose hand is blind,” according to his expression, in which he stated, “We confirm that your hand is bound by law, and no decision has been issued for its purpose to accept or reject your response, or to transfer or not transfer the case.” in front of you.”-
The investigation into the explosion was suspended in December 2021 due to lawsuits filed successively by defendants, including current deputies and former ministers, against Bitar. The investigator encountered political interference that prevented him from proceeding with his mission, with several political forces, most notably Hezbollah, objecting to his work and accusing him of “politicizing” the file, leading to demands for his resignation.
However, Bitar conducted a legal review on the basis of which he announced his decision to resume investigations despite the lawsuits filed against him, which sparked widespread legal and political controversy.
Immediately after resuming the investigation on Monday, Bitar requested the release of five detainees who had been arrested since the explosion and prevented from traveling, including a Syrian worker and two former port officials.
A judicial official told AFP that the Public Prosecution Office, by directing the letter today to Bitar, had rejected all the decisions he had taken, including his resumption of the investigation.
Bitar’s decision to resume his investigations came about a week after he met a French judicial delegation that visited Lebanon with the aim of inquiring about information requested by the French judiciary, which is conducting an investigation in Paris regarding the killing and injury of Frenchmen in the explosion.
Concerning the positions regarding the resumption of the investigation, the political aide to the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hussein Al-Khalil, told reporters on Monday, “This judicial dress, which is supposed to be white, unfortunately has been exposed to many black points, one of which is what happened in the judicial case in the port file.”
The local newspaper, Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hezbollah, headlined its article on Tuesday about the resumption of investigations, with the title “Tariq Bitar Jun.”
And she wrote, “The effects of the step must be waited for later. Either the file will explode again, or Al-Bitar’s step will be just a smoke bomb,” considering that the appeal decision came “with the strength of European judicial support and American orders.”
US State Department spokesman Ned Price renewed the Lebanese authorities’ demand for a “quick and transparent” investigation. He said in a press briefing on Monday night, “The victims of the August 2020 explosion deserve justice. Those responsible must be held accountable.”
The suspension of the investigation and the repeated political interference fuel the anger of the families of the victims and human rights organizations calling on the United Nations to send an independent fact-finding mission.
In a statement on Monday, Amnesty International accused the Lebanese authorities of obstructing the investigation “shamefully and systematically,” and called on it to “take all measures to ensure that the domestic investigation can continue without political interference, in order to fulfill its obligations to ensure redress for violations of the right to life.”