Lebanon News

Beirut blast judge summons four ex-officials for questioning

The Justice Palace in Beirut, Aug. 14, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Judge Tarek Bitar summoned Tuesday a former prime minister and three ex-ministers for interrogation on suspicion of negligence and maladministration over last year's catastrophic Beirut Port blast, judicial sources said.

The sources said Bitar set Oct. 12 to interrogate former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, Oct. 13 to question former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Oct. 28 to listen to former Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Bitar set the interviews a day after the Court of Cassation rejected legal complaints filed against him by some of the former ministers, paving the way for the judge to resume his probe which had been frozen last week.

Bitar, leading the probe into the Aug. 4 2020 explosion that killed over 200 people, had been seeking to question the three ex-ministers -- all current members of Parliament -- and Diab for months now.

The questioning of the three former ministers is planned before Parliament reconvenes Oct. 19, the day the three men would regain their parliamentary immunity.

Legal complaints against Bitar had followed a smear campaign by Lebanon's political class against him and a reported warning by a senior Hezbollah official that he would be removed. Bitar would have been the second judge to be removed on such claims after his predecessor Judge Fadi Sawan was removed in February through a similar legal filing.

Efforts to question former and serving state officials, including the prime minister at the time of the blast, ex-ministers and senior security officials on suspicion of negligence have been repeatedly blocked.

Families of the victims of the blast, that destroyed large swaths of the capital Beirut, are furious that more than a year on no one has been held accountable.

 

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