Judge restarts the probe into the Beirut port explosion
After a nearly 13-month hiatus, the judge looking into Beirut’s catastrophic 2020 port blast recommenced his work on Monday.
In addition, Tarek Bitar’s first task was to order the release of five suspects who had been detained: a port maintenance contractor and his Syrian employee, Michel Nahoul, one of the port’s directors, Shafik Merhi, the former customs chief, and Sami Hussein, the port’s operations director.
The State Security and General Security chiefs, Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, respectively, and judges Ghassan Khoury, Carla Shawah, and Jad Maalouf were among the eight people he accused of having “possible intent to kill.”
According to a legal source who spoke to Arab News, those who were freed without bond will face a travel ban, and there would be more releases to come.
In relation to the explosion that occurred on August 4, 2020, and resulted in more than 300 fatalities and at least 6,500 injuries, 17 persons have been charged.
The Supreme Judicial Council judges have recently come under increased pressure from the families of the blast victims to not name a different judge to decide the fate of the jailed suspects.
On Monday, Bitar asked the public prosecution to implement the suspects’ release and notify the defendants of the decision.
Although he had earlier asked for Maalouf and Shawah to be put under the legal microscope, nothing had been done by the public prosecution.
Shawah is accused of failing to take action to destroy the hazardous material, while Maalouf is said to have played a significant part in facilitating the unloading of the ship carrying tonnes of the ammonium nitrate that ultimately exploded. Maalouf also appointed a judicial guard.
After months of unsuccessful attempts by the judicial system to have him removed from the case, Bitar resumed his inquiries from his office at the Justice Palace. But he insisted that the date had nothing to do with his recent encounter with a French judicial mission in Beirut. The explosion claimed the lives of two French nationals and injured others.
Bitar informed the delegation that he had approximately 150 pages left to write in his 540-page report on the case.
The Supreme Judicial Council was called by the Lebanese minister of justice in the caretaker administration in response to Bitar’s most recent actions. He questioned the legal papers authorising the judge to resume his duties and raised concerns about secrecy.