Probe into Beirut Port blast in 2020 returned to the scene of Lebanon’s political developments this week, with the investigating judge Tarek Bitar charging top Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat along with several judges and officials in connection with the case.
The investigating judge also charged Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s domestic intelligence agency, and Major General Tony Saliba, head of another security body as well as former premier Hassan Diab, army commander Jean Kahwaji and other ministers judicial officials have said, without specifying the charges.
Bitar has also ordered the release of five detained suspects, including former head of customs, Shafiq Merhi.
Prosecutor: Bitar Removed from the Case
Commenting on the charges, Oweidat told Tarek Bitar that his probe into the Beirut Port blast remains suspended, Reuters news agency reported.
In a letter to Bitar, Oweidat said: “By legal means you are forced out of the probe and no resolution has been made on accepting or rejecting your complaint (on the issue).”
Pressure or Meddling?
Bitar’s investigation into August 4, 2020 explosion has been halted since late 2021 by lawsuits accusing the judge of politicizing the probe. The case was then stalled by the retirement of judges from a court that must rule on several such complaints. That has left Bitar unable to summon suspects or press charges.
Monday’s surprising move by Bitar was described as suspicious by Lebanese daily AL-Akhbar.
“Resuming investigation by Bitar is not a coincidence, neither by the timing, nor by the current conditions. It is judicially backed by the EU and ordered by the US, in a clear violation of all Lebanese legal norms. Bitar has violated the decision to remove him from the case,” the paper said on Tuesday.
Al-Akhbar was referring to a last week meeting between Bitar and a French judicial delegation probing the death of two French citizens in the Beirut Port blast met Bitar.
The French judicial team was part of European delegation which visited Lebanon to probe the country’s Central Bank governor and dozens of other individuals over suspected corruption.
For its part, the United States commented on Bitar’s Monday move, with the US Embassy in Beirut voicing support to the investigating judge.
.@StateDeptSpox: We support and urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut.
— U.S. Embassy Beirut (@usembassybeirut) January 24, 2023
Hezbollah: Bitar’s Investigation ‘Black Stain’
Commenting on Bitar’s charges, former member of Hezbollah politburo Ghaleb Abu Zeinab said that the investigating judge has crossed all legal lines, questioning his legal qualification to issue such charges.
In a tweet, he considered Bitar’s move “meddling by the EU and the West in a bid to press Lebanon via judicial means, after all attempts to control the country’s national decision have failed.”
For his part, Hussein Khalil, the political advisor of Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, told reporters that Bitar’s investigation was a “black stain” on Lebanese justice.
Hezbollah has been calling for a just investigation into the tragic explosion that killed 220 people, injured thousands and shattered parts of Beirut.
Sayyed Nasrallah has repeatedly slammed Bitar, accusing him of being biased in releasing charges against several officials.
In a speech on October last year, his eminence affirmed that Hezbollah is keen to know the truth behind the tragedy, pointing to the Tayyouneh ambush by Lebanese Force Party whose militiamen killed six people during a demonstration protesting the politicization of the investigation into Beirut Port blast.
Source: Al-Manar English Website