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Lebanon’s caretaker PM, 3 ex-ministers charged with negligence over port blast

Suit against Hassan Diab over devastating Beirut explosion that killed more than 200 comes amid public anger over senior officials not paying a price

Political graffiti is visible in front of the scene of the August 4 explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 9, 2020. (AP/Hussein Malla)
Political graffiti is visible in front of the scene of the August 4 explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 9, 2020. (AP/Hussein Malla)

The Lebanese prosecutor probing last summer’s port explosion in Beirut filed charges Thursday against the caretaker prime minister and three former ministers, Lebanon’s official news agency said.

Judge Fadi Sawwan filed the charges against Hassan Diab and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, as well as Ghazi Zeiter and Youssef Fenianos, both former ministers of public works.

All four were charged with negligence leading to deaths over the August 4 explosion at the Beirut port, which killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.

The decision came after the investigation confirmed that the suspects had received “several written notices warning them against postponing the disposal of ammonium nitrate fertilizer,” which authorities say was behind the explosion, a judicial source said.

“They also did not take the necessary measures to avoid the devastating explosion and its enormous damage,” added the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the issue.

The explosion was caused by the ignition of a large stockpile of explosive material that had been stored at the port for years, with the knowledge of top security officials and politicians who did nothing about it.

The four are the most senior individuals to be indicted so far in the probe, which is being conducted in secrecy. Anger has been building up over the slow investigation, lack of answers and the fact that no senior officials have been indicted.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks to the media outside the Beirut international airport, April 5, 2020. (Anway Amro/AFP)

About 30 other security officials and port and customs officials have been detained in the probe.

Diab, a former university professor, resigned few days after the blast, which leveled the port and destroyed large parts of the city.

Zeitar was transport and public works minister in 2014, followed by Fenianos in 2016, who held the job until the beginning of 2020. Khalil was finance minister in 2014 and again in 2016 until 2020.

Both Khalil and Fenanios were sanctioned by the US in September this year, the first two officials to be subjected to those measures outside of the Hezbollah terror group.

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