Bitar resumes probe, decides to charge Ibrahim, release Merhi


The lead investigator into the catastrophic Beirut port explosion, Judge Tarek Bitar, resumed his probe on Monday, a judicial source and TV networks said, after a 13-month suspension due to political pressure.

"Bitar has decided to resume his investigation," the judicial official told AFP, adding that the judge has ordered the release of five detained suspects, while charging eight others, including two high-ranking security officials.

"Bitar conducted a legal study that led him to decide to resume his investigations despite the complaints filed against him," the official said.

The eight individuals who will be charged by Bitar include General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and State Security chief Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, the judicial official said. Al-Jadeed said the number of those who will be charged will increase in the coming days.

TV networks identified the five suspects who will be released as Salim Chebli (maintenance contractor at the port), Ahmed al-Rajab (Syrian national who worked for Chebli), Michel Nahoul (a director at the port), Shafik Merhi (former customs chief) and Sami Hussein (operations director at the port).

According to al-Jadeed TV, the five will be released without bail but a travel ban will be imposed on them.

And according to a leaked copy, Bitar's legal study mentions the following:

- The Judicial Council is a special court that is totally independent and not outranked by any other court or judicial body.

- The new Code of Criminal Procedure issued in 2001 allowed for the recusal and removal of Judicial Council members but not the judicial investigator.

- The same Code of Criminal Procedure stipulated the appointment of a successor to any removed Judicial Council member to avoid any obstruction of justice.

- Legislators wanted the judicial investigator to be a special investigator to whom the rules of recusal and removal do not apply.

- Any judicial decision to remove the judicial investigator would certainly entail the abolishment of a post created by governmental decision, which would breach the principle of separation of powers stipulated by the constitution.

The investigation into the cause of the blast had been stalled since December 2021 as politicians that Bitar had summoned for questioning filed complaints against him, forcing him to halt his probe.

Hezbollah had also repeatedly demanded that Bitar step down from the investigation and an anti-Bitar protest organized by the party and its Amal Movement ally turned into deadly sectarian clashes in the Tayyouneh-Ain el-Remmaneh area.

No state official has yet been held accountable over the blast.

Last week, Bitar met with two French judges about his investigation, a judicial source told AFP at the time.

The August 4, 2020 explosion at the Beirut port killed more than 230 people, wounded more than 6,000 and destroyed swathes of the capital.

Authorities said tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer haphazardly stocked in a port warehouse since 2014 had caught fire, causing one of history's largest non-nuclear explosions.

Comments 1
Thumb 23 January 2023, 16:48

There are several problems, first the leaks, the indicted individuals can prepare themselves and destroy evidence.

Second, releasing already indicted people such as a port director is a bad signal, the director is directly responsible for what happens in the premises he’s managing.