Report: Abboud still refusing that Higher Judicial Council convene

The Higher Judicial Council is facing a “real test” and its chief, Judge Suheil Abboud, is “still refusing that a session be held to discuss the latest developments, with the aim of protecting (Beirut port blast investigator Judge Tarek) Bitar,” judicial sources say.

“During deliberations yesterday with the members of the council, Abboud tried to put Bitar in the same position with (State Prosecutor Ghassan) Oueidat, arguing that both have erred and that Oueidat cannot attend the session,” the sources told al-Akhbar newspaper in remarks published Tuesday.

The daily added that there is “a major rift among the council’s members that is taking a sectarian nature, with the Christian members becoming more hesitant to attend, especially after the spiritual cover provided by Bkirki for Bitar.”

The newspaper also said that the interrogation sessions scheduled by Bitar for those charged in the case have not been postponed, with the sources voicing concern that Bitar might “take advantage of the return of the European judicial delegations to go to the Justice Palace, which would push things to escalation again.”

Bitar took Lebanon by surprise on January 23 when he resumed his investigation after a 13-month hiatus, charging eight new suspects including high-level security officials and Lebanon's top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat. The judge also scheduled interrogation sessions for ex-PM Hassan Diab and former ministers who had been previously charged.

Bitar said he based his decision on a legal review that he himself conducted. A top security official meanwhile said that the Lebanese judiciary had come under U.S. pressure to free detainees in the case, including dual Lebanese-U.S. citizen Ziad al-Ouf.

The week before reopening the case, Bitar had met with two French judges for hours about his investigation. The delegation suggested Bitar should resume work, arguing that holding suspects in detention without trial was a human rights violation.

Bitar's surprise move sparked a judicial battle with Oueidat, who retaliated by charging the judge with "usurping power" and insubordination and slapping him with a travel ban. A defiant Bitar meanwhile stressed that he would not step down, adding that Oueidat "has no authority" to intervene in the case.

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