Prosecutors in Lebanon order all suspects detained in the 2020 Beirut port explosion to be released

Streaming HUBJanuary 25, 2023

Lebanon’s top prosecutor on Wednesday ordered the release of all suspects detained in an investigation into the deadly 2020 port explosion in Beirut, a lawyer for two detainees and judicial officials said.

The move by chief prosecutor Ghassan Ouedt is another blow to the investigation, which has been stalled for years. The probe threatens to unsettle Lebanon’s ruling elite, which has been plagued by corruption and mismanagement and helped push the country into an unprecedented economic downturn.

Judge Tarek Bitter handed down the ruling on Monday as he reopened an investigation into the devastating port explosion, following a 13-month halt over legal challenges raised by accused politicians in the investigation – including the chief prosecutor.

Bitter said in a statement on Wednesday that Ouedt’s decision to release the detainees was “illegal” and said he was committed to completing the investigation. Bitter’s statement read, “Judge Ouedt cannot impeach a judge who previously accused him in a port investigation because of a conflict of interest.”

Seventeen detainees have been held for years in pre-trial detention following the massive port blast on August 4, 2020. Hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, exploded at Beirut port, killing 218 people, and injuring more. 6,000 and large parts of the Lebanese capital were damaged.

Beirut’s massive 2020 port explosion probe resumes after 13-month hiatus

Sakher El Hachem, a lawyer representing former port authority chief Hassan Koraytem and a former port official, Ziad Al-Auf, a US citizen, told The Associated Press that they had received confirmation of the decision from the judiciary and that their clients were released on Wednesday. Will go

Visuals of the explosion at the port of Beirut are shown on August 5, 2020. Lebanon's top prosecutor has ordered the release of all suspects detained in the deadly 2020 port blast on January 25, 2023.

Visuals of the explosion at the port of Beirut are shown on August 5, 2020. Lebanon’s top prosecutor has ordered the release of all suspects detained in the deadly 2020 port blast on January 25, 2023.
(AP Photo/Hussain Malla, File)

Judicial officials said Ouedts, who disobeyed Bitar’s decision to resume the paralyzed investigation, would press charges against him. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Officials said Ouedt sent a police officer to Bitter’s residence to inform him about the allegations and directed Bitter to visit his office, but the wayward investigator refused to speak with him.

Ouweidat did not immediately respond to AP’s call seeking comment.

Modi Koraytem, ​​sister of the former port authority chief, said the release of the detainees was long overdue and claimed they were all innocent.

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“As a port administration there was nothing they could do about it (ammonium nitrate),” she said, adding that they did their job because the judiciary cleared the deadly cargo to enter the port. .

Some of the detainees, including former customs chief Badri Daher, had been released from jail by Wednesday afternoon. “Oweidat did the right legal thing,” said his lawyer, Celine Atallah. Dahar was not available for comment.

Judge Bitter is the second investigator to lead the investigation into the port blasts, and has charged more than a dozen senior political, security, port and security officials.

On Monday, Bitter ordered the release of five of the 17 detainees in the case and charged eight officials, including top intelligence officers Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, as well as Ovedat.

The judge also summoned at least 14 politicians and judicial, security and customs officials for questioning in February. Senior officials have repeatedly refused to appear for questioning since the probe began.

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Bitar took up his position in February 2021 after Justice Fadi Sawan was removed over complaints of favoritism by two cabinet ministers. If he is also dropped, it could be the final blow to the probe.

Most of the families of the victims of the blast have supported Bitar and called on the authorities to allow a thorough and unhindered investigation. However some have lost hope of a domestic investigation and have advocated for a fact-finding mission mandated by the United Nations.

Lebanon’s political leadership has accused Bitar without evidence of being biased in his investigation, with some calling for his removal.

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