Lebanon: a judge issues an arrest warrant against a deputy for the explosion of a port

The Lebanese state news agency said the judge leading the investigation into last year’s massive explosion in the port of Beirut issued an arrest warrant against a former cabinet minister after he he did not show up for an interrogation

BEIRUT – Lebanese judge investigating last year’s massive explosion in Beirut port on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for former cabinet minister after he failed to appear for questioning, the national news agency said.

Shortly after, the judge was informed that the former minister and another former member of the government had formally asked a court to replace the judge, who must now put the investigation on hold until a decision concerning him is made. be returned.

The developments were the latest twists and turns in the saga of the troubled investigation into the massive August 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut that killed 215 people, injured thousands and devastated entire neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital.

Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation, has issued an arrest warrant against Ali Hassan Khalil, former Lebanese finance minister and current MP. It was not immediately clear whether Khalil would be arrested.

The decision came hours after the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah stepped up his attack on the judge, calling on authorities on Monday to replace Bitar with a “truthful and transparent” investigator.

Khalil, a close ally of Hezbollah, was among those responsible for challenging Bitar in court, saying the judge was biased and calling for his replacement. He had previously refused to appear for questioning.

Last month, Judge Bitar issued an arrest warrant for former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos, still at large.

Lebanon is a small country known for its corruption where a culture of impunity has prevailed for decades, including among entrenched political elites.

As a lawmaker, Khalil enjoys parliamentary immunity, but Bitar’s decision on Tuesday came as immunity was briefly lifted for lawmakers until October 19, when parliament resumes session.

Bitar has charged Khalil and three other former senior government officials with intentional murder and negligence which resulted in dozens of deaths in the port blast.

Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded in the most destructive incident in troubled history in Lebanon.

Bitar was appointed in February by a government body to lead the investigation. A court decided to remove Bitar’s predecessor from office after he faced similar accusations of bias from former officials.


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