Judge Tareq Bitar, in charge of the investigation into the gigantic explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020, had to suspend his investigations on Monday after a complaint from a former minister. NGOs and relatives of the victims deplore a flagrant new case of political obstruction.

On August 4, 2020, the explosion was attributed, by the authorities’ own admission, to the storage without precautionary measures since the end of 2013 of enormous quantities of ammonium nitrate at the port. It has left more than 200 dead, more than 6,500 injured and devastated entire neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital.

Mr. Bitar was notified of a complaint filed against him by the former Interior Minister Nohad al-Machnouk, suspected of “negligence and shortcomings” in the investigation into the explosion. Mr. Machnouk claims the relinquishment of the judge by evoking a technical defect on the basis of a constitutional article stipulating the prosecution of ministers and officials by the High Court of Justice alone.

Judge “Bitar suspends his investigation […] until the Beirut Court of Appeal decides to accept the appeal [de M. Machnouk] or reject it, ”a judicial source told AFP.

Blamed for criminal negligence, the authorities have rejected any international investigation. The local investigation continues to stall, the ruling class being accused of doing everything to torpedo it and avoid charges in a country where “the culture of impunity” is rife according to NGOs.

Senior political, security and judicial officials were aware of the dangers of the highly volatile substance at the port, but took no preventive action. And this drama has plunged the country into the abyss, where the political class, unchanged for decades, is also accused of corruption, incompetence and inertia.

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“Cruel contempt”

Judge Bitar’s predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was relieved of his post in February after several officials were indicted. Judge Bitar also risks being dismissed.

In recent weeks, he has been at the heart of a smear campaign and has even been threatened by a senior official of the pro-Iranian Shiite armed movement Hezbollah, master of the game in Lebanon, according to local media.

The suspension of the investigation aroused the ire of human rights organizations and relatives of the victims of the explosion.

The complaint filed against Judge Bitar “clearly indicates that the political class will do everything in their power to derail, hinder and undermine the investigation and evade justice,” lamented Aya Majzoub, of Human Rights. Watch.

Lynn Maalouf of Amnesty International, for her part, denounced a “cruel disregard” for the rights of victims, survivors and their families on the part of the ruling class.

For the spokesperson of the committee of the families of the victims, Ibrahim Hoteit, it is about a “war” carried out by the persons in charge to silence the truth. He promised an escalation in the streets if “justice is not done”.

“It’s really disgusting,” added Paul Naggear, father of one of the youngest victims of the tragedy, who died at the age of three.

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On September 15, more than 140 local and international NGOs as well as survivors and relatives of the victims of the explosion appealed to the UN for an international investigation, denouncing “the shameless obstruction of the authorities”.

On Monday in New York, the UN Security Council again stressed the need for a “swift, independent and impartial” investigation, as Lebanon is immersed in the worst socio-economic crisis in its history.

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In recent months, Judge Bitar has summoned four former ministers, including three deputies, including Mr. Machnouk, suspected of “negligence and shortcomings”. But Parliament refused to lift their immunity.

On August 26, the investigator issued an arrest warrant against ex-Prime Minister Hassan Diab after his refusal to appear for questioning, and on September 16 an arrest warrant against the former – Minister of Transport Youssef Fenianos.

Before the announcement on Monday of the suspension of the investigation, relatives of the victims had planned to organize a demonstration in front of the courthouse in Beirut on Wednesday in support of Judge Bitar.

” The houses [des responsables] are a target. We can also block highways and roads, ”warned Ibrahim Hoteit.

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