Mashnouq Asks Court of Cassation to Recuse Bitar
Former interior minister and incumbent MP Nouhad al-Mashnouq on Friday filed a request asking the Court of Cassation to remove Judge Tarek Bitar from the Beirut port blast investigations.
The request was submitted by Mashnouq’s lawyer Naoum Farah.
Former public works minister Youssef Fenianos had on Wednesday filed a similar request, citing "legitimate suspicion" over Bitar’s handling of the case.
The developments are the latest in a year-long saga surrounding the investigation into the explosion.
Months into the probe, the former lead judge running the investigation, Fadi Sawwan, was removed by the Court of Cassation after similar charges were filed against him by senior government officials.
The judge has accused Mashnouq, Fenianos and two other former ministers of intentional killing and negligence that led to the deaths of more than 200 people in the explosion. Over 6,000 were injured in the massive blast that also devastated a large section of Beirut.
Fenianos’ petition was harshly criticized by human rights activists and angered the families of the victims, which claimed it was another ploy to "prevent the truth."
"It is outrageous that Lebanese politicians think they can just replace a judge every time he tries to hold them accountable until one is appointed that is to their liking," said Aya Majzoub, a Lebanon researcher from Human Rights Watch.
More than a year later, there are still no answers to what triggered the explosion, and no one has been held accountable. Rights groups and local media revealed that most state officials knew of the presence in the port of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers, that had been improperly stored there for years.