Beirut explosion investigator charges former PM, top prosecutor

The judge probing the 2020 Beirut blast has charged Lebanon’s top public prosecutor, the then-premier and other senior current and former officials in connection with the devastating explosion, judicial sources said and court summons show.

Judge Tarek Bitar unexpectedly resumed an inquiry on Monday after it was paralysed for more than a year by political resistance and legal complaints filed by top officials he was seeking to question.

The explosion on Aug. 4, 2020, which killed 220 people, was caused by hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored at the port in poor conditions since it was unloaded in 2013. So far, no senior official has been held to account.

Bitar has charged prime minister Hassan Diab and former ministers with homicide with probable intent, according to court summons seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

He also charged Prosecutor General Ghassan Oweidat, the head of Lebanon’s domestic intelligence agency Major General Abbas Ibrahim, former army commander Jean Kahwaji and other current and former security and judicial officials, court sources said.

It was not immediately clear what they had been charged with, but one judicial source said Bitar had found Oweidat had not acted responsibly with regards to the ammonium nitrate.

All those previously charged by Bitar have denied wrongdoing.

Oweidat on Tuesday sent Bitar an official letter saying that Bitar’s probe remained suspended and that no official decision had been taken on whether he could continue investigating, according to a copy of the correspondence seen by Reuters.

The investigation was paralysed in early 2022 by the retirement of judges from a court that must rule on several such complaints against Bitar before he can continue.

The court has been awaiting the appointment of new judges to resume its work, a step authorities have not taken.