The probe into Tuesday’s catastrophic Beirut port explosion was suspended for the second time in less than three weeks after two politicians wanted for questioning filed new complaints against the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar.
The investigation has been hit with a snag since Bitar sought to question some of Lebanon’s most powerful people on suspicion they knew about the chemical but did nothing to prevent the disaster.
Bitar has come under intense pressure from groups who accuse his investigation of political bias and of waging a smear campaign against him. The leader of the powerful and heavily armed Shiite political movement Hezbollah said Monday they wanted Bitar removed from the case.
The August 4, 2020 explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killed more than 200 people and destroyed much of Beirut.
The senior politician who was called in for questioning has refused to come and was not given an arrest warrant.
A meeting of the country’s highest defense council, chaired by President Michel Aoun, Tuesday refused the judge’s permission to pursue Tony Saliba, director general of state security, official sources said.
The investigation was terminated at the end of September on the basis of a complaint questioning Bitar’s impartiality. The court dismissed the complaint on procedural grounds, which allowed Bitar to continue its investigation.
Bitar is the second judge to lead the investigation. Fadi Sawan was removed from the case in February on the basis of a similar complaint filed by the politician now challenging Bitar.
“For the first time, the justice system wanted to function, but it suffered under pressure and political intervention,” said Paul Morcos, attorney and professor of international law. [my/jm]