Bitar postpones all questioning sessions scheduled for February
Beirut port blast investigator Judge Tarek Bitar on Monday postponed all interrogation sessions scheduled for this month in light of the “developing circumstances related to decisions issued by the state prosecutor” and to “preserve the integrity and proper conduct of the investigation.”
A session for the interrogation of ex-ministers Ghazi Zoaiter and Nouhad al-Mashnouq had been scheduled for today, Monday.
“I postponed the session because the interest of the judicial investigation file requires cooperation between the investigator and the public prosecution, which is currently inexistent and should be resolved, and when it gets resolved I will resume my work,” MTV quoted Bitar as saying.
Al-Jadeed TV said Bitar will suspend the sessions until “a final format for the relation between the investigative judge and the public prosecution is found, following the clash that happened.”
“Bitar postponed the sessions due to his inability to communicate with the public prosecution, which would prevent the enforcement of writs and notices,” al-Jadeed added.
Judicial sources meanwhile told MTV that Bitar is accused by State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat of “usurping power” and is “waiting for his trial before the judiciary in order to act accordingly.”
“Should Bitar be tried and it turns out that he has not usurped power, then his decisions cannot be but implemented,” the sources added.
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 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.