Top Lebanese prosecutor demands judge suspend probe into port blast

Lebanon’s chief prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat says the judge leading the investigation into Beirut’s massive 2020 port blast cannot proceed with the probe until the country’s judicial authorities rule on the matter.

The statement by Oweidat comes a day after Judge Tarek Bitar resumed the investigation, following a 13-month halt over legal challenges raised by politicians accused in the probe — including the chief prosecutor. Bitar ordered the release of five of 17 detainees in the case, and charged eight officials, among them top intelligence officials Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, as well as Oweidat.

Lebanon’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, has not ruled on those challenges.

Hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate detonated at Beirut Port on August 4, 2020, killing 218 people, injuring over 6,000 and damaging large parts of the Lebanese capital. Afterward, port, customs and legal documents revealed that the chemicals had been stored improperly for years at a port warehouse — and that senior politicians and officials knew about it.

A probe into the affair has threatened to rattle Lebanon’s ruling elite, rife with corruption and mismanagement, that has helped push the country into an unprecedented economic meltdown over the past few years. Some politicians have challenged the judge in court, accusing him of violating the constitution or of showing bias. There were also reports of threats leveled against the judge and the government vowed in late 2021 to increase his security.

Oweidat tells The Associated Press that reports he is planning on pressing charges against Bitar are “as of now, incorrect.”

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