Lebanon: Beirut explosion, investigation suspended

After call for recusal of Judge Bitar

28 September, 14:13

    (ANSAmed) - BEIRUT, 28 SET - The investigation into the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut on 4 August 2020, in which over 200 people were killed, was suspended on Tuesday after attorneys for one of the defendants, an MP and former minister, presented a recusal request against the judge leading the investigation, Tarek Bitar, who has repeatedly come under pressure by the ruling political class.

    Beirut media said the recusal request, presented by attorneys of former interior minister Nouhad Machnouk, is based on the presumed partiality of the work of Bitar, who took over the investigation in January after his predecessor was forced to leave following similar pressure by the political class.

    The investigation was previously suspended in December 2020 when Judge Fadi Sawwan, the prior head of the investigation, was removed.

    Bitar's investigation has thus far formally issued criminal charges against nine senior institutional and security officials for the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored for seven years at the port of Beirut.

    By law, the Beirut court of appeals must now review the recusal request and the investigation is formally suspended.

    Lebanese judicial sources said the request presented by Machnouk's attorneys will in all likelihood be rejected.

    But they said nonetheless the request buys time for Machnouk, who will once again be protected by parliamentary immunity starting 19 October when parliament goes back into session.

    He is currently without parliamentary immunity due to the transition between the outgoing government and the incoming one.

    In addition to Machnouk, another former minister, Youssef Fenianos, for whom Judge Bitar issued an arrest warrant, presented a similar recusal request.

    Judicial sources confirmed by Lebanese media said Bitar was directly threatened by the pro-Iranian Shiite movement Hezbollah, which effectively leads the government coalition and the parliamentary majority in Lebanon. (ANSAmed).

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