Beirut port explosion investigator forced to suspend investigation for third time

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The Lebanese judge responsible for investigating the Beirut port explosion last year was forced to stop work on Thursday following a lawsuit filed by a former minister he summoned for questioning.

Tarek Bitar was informed of a “lawsuit filed by former Minister of Public Works Youssef Fenianos (…) which forced him to suspend the investigation until a decision is rendered,” said to AFP a court official on condition of anonymity.

This is the third time Bitar has had to suspend its investigation over lawsuits brought by former ministers suspected of negligence following the August 2020 explosion.

The total number of lawsuits against Bitar now stands at 15, according to court sources.

The latest comes amid a campaign by the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah demanding the replacement of Bitar following allegations of “bias” that have been widely dismissed by advocacy groups and the families of victims of the explosion.

Representatives of the Shiite group in government said they would boycott cabinet meetings until it took a clear stance on Bitar’s replacement demands.

As a result, the cabinet failed to hold a single session in three weeks.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday condemned attempts to force his government to intervene in court cases, in a thinly veiled criticism of Hezbollah.

“We tried as much as possible to keep the Beirut explosion investigation under the jurisdiction of justice and we rejected any form of (political) interference,” Mikati said at a press conference.

Human rights groups and relatives of the victims fear the repeated suspensions could be a prelude to Bitar’s impeachment, further derailing the official investigation into Lebanon’s worst peacetime tragedy.

Bitar’s predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was forced to suspend his investigation for the same reason before being finally removed from his post in February, a move widely condemned as political interference.

(AFP)

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