Beirut port explosion investigation resumes after challenge

Beirut port explosion investigation resumes after legal complaint dismissed
2 min read
04 October, 2021
Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, will resume his investigation after the Lebanese Court of Appeals dismissed a case alleging he was politically biased.
The lawsuit filed against Bitar was largely seen as a stalling tactic until MPs regained their judicial immunity on 19 October [The New Arab-Will Christou]

Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, will resume his investigation after the Lebanese Court of Appeals dismissed the case against him.

Three Lebanese MPs had filed a legal complaint against Bitar on 27 September, alleging he had "political bias", after he issued summons against them for their roles in the 4 August 2020 blast which killed at least 218 people and wounded 6,500.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the case because it does not have jurisdiction over the special investigator.

It also imposed a fine of 800,000 lira (about $45) on the three MPs for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

Filing the legal complaint through the Court of Appeals immediately halted Bitar's investigation, as, unlike Lebanon’s Court of Cassation, ongoing investigations must be suspended until a ruling is issued.

Legal activists largely decried the move as a way of stalling for time until judicial immunity returns to lawmakers on 19 October, when parliament is set to reconvene.

"The main purpose of this request is to immediately suspend the investigation and to win time until they regain their immunity," Ghida Frangieh, a lawyer at Lebanese NGO Legal Agenda, told The New Arab, last week.

Bitar is the second judge tasked with investigating the explosion after his predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was removed under accusations of bias.

In recent weeks he has stepped up the pace of the investigation, issuing summons for top officials such as former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who left Lebanon before the date of his interrogation.

He had also issued an arrest warrant for Youssef Fenianos, the former minister of public works and transportation.

Lebanon’s political elite threw up roadblocks in response, and several legal complaints were filed against Bitar in an attempt to force him to be recused. A top Hezbollah official reportedly threatened Bitar personally, should the investigation not turn out as the movement wants it to.

To date, no one has been arrested in connection with the port explosion, and despite wide calls for an international inquiry, prosecution remains in the hand of the Lebanese judicial system.