Lebanese MPs accused by NGO of obstructing blast probe

Lebanese MPs accused by NGO of obstructing Beirut blast probe with rival body
3 min read
22 July, 2021
More than 50 MPs signed a motion to transfer a key part of the blast probe to an obscure judicial body, in what was called an attempt to 'obstruct' the investigation.
Protests over the lack of prosecution of suspects in the Beirut port explosion investigation have increased over the last month [TNA]

A Lebanese legal NGO revealed on Wednesday that more than 50 Lebanese parliamentarians have signed a motion to open up a parallel investigation into the Port of Beirut explosion, sparking outrage among citizens who view the move as an attempt by officials to evade accountability.

Judge Tarek Bitar is currently leading the probe into the 4 August 2020 Beirut port explosion, which killed over 200 people and injured more than 6,000 more.

Bitar was appointed to the role after the previous investigator, Fadi Sawwan, was removed in February for refusing to abide by certain "red lines" in his investigation.

The motion, filed by Speaker of the House Nabih Berri, would have referred the officials requested - including Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab - by Bitar to a legal body known as the Supreme Council.

The Supreme Council is meant to impeach presidents and high-ranking officials but has not done this once since its inception as a legal body in 1990, according to Legal Agenda, which revealed the existence of the parliamentary motion.

In addition, Legal Agenda noted that in order to convene the Supreme Council, two-thirds of the MPs must be present, something it deemed "impossible" to occur.

Instead, the NGO accused the signatories of trying to obstruct Bitar's probe and attempting to "smuggle suspects out of his grasp into a fictitious court".

After the motion and its signatories were revealed on Wednesday and began to circulate on social media, at least four MPs withdrew their names from the list.

Nicolas Nahas, who withdrew his signature, told The New Arab that while his opinion on the motion did not change, he preferred to stay out of what he saw as a "looming political fight".

"I'm still convinced that the path of Judge [Bitar] isn't so clear. It isn't evident that he's after the real people who caused this issue," Nahas said.

He added that the MPs who signed the motion were trying to "accelerate the path" towards the investigation of the Beirut port explosion, which killed over 200 people, and denied that the motion was meant as an evasion of accountability.

For the public, however - especially the families of the victims of the port explosion - the parliamentary move amounted to little more than a betrayal of justice.

Paul Naggear, an elected member of the engineers' union, whose daughter was killed in the explosion, shared a list of the signatories and wrote: "The blood of our martyrs and our victims are on your hands, scum."

Protests, with the families of the victims at their helm, have grown increasingly tense in the last month after the caretaker interior minister denied the request of Judge Bitar to lift the immunity of certain officials so they could be called in for questioning.

The caretaker minister, though initially signaling his approval for the lifting of officials' immunity, quickly backtracked.

Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon General Security Directorate and one of the officials wanted by Bitar for questioning, accused the investigation of being politicised. Soon after the request for the lifting of Ibrahim's immunity, billboards pledging their support for the security chief appeared across Lebanon.  

According to Naggear, by refusing to lift immunity, the government was "killing us a second time."