Judge named to look into Oueidat-Bitar standoff
The Higher Judicial Council has appointed Judge Habib Rizkallah to look into the judicial standoff between State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat and Beirut port blast investigator Judge Tarek Bitar.
Bitar had on February 6 postponed questioning of officials over the dispute with Oueidat.
Bitar resumed his probe in January after a 13-month hiatus amid vehement political and legal pushback. Reopening the case, he had charged several senior former and incumbent officials, including Oueidat. Oueidat retaliated by charging the judge with "usurping power" and insubordination, slapping Bitar with a travel ban.
Bitar told reporters that he postponed all interrogations due to the "lack of cooperation" from the prosecutor's office, without setting new dates.
"There are charges accusing me of usurping power that must be resolved," he said. If these charges "are proven, then I must be held to account, and if the contrary happens, then I must continue the investigation," Bitar argued.
One of history's biggest non-nuclear explosions, the blast on August 4, 2020 destroyed much of Beirut port and surrounding areas, killing more than 215 people and injuring over 6,500.
Authorities said the mega-explosion was caused by a fire in a portside warehouse where a vast stockpile of the industrial chemical ammonium nitrate had been haphazardly stored for years.
Observers had feared the spat over the blast probe could lead to the outright collapse of the judicial system -- one of the country's last fully functioning state institutions.