Two ex-ministers snub judge after being charged over Beirut blast

Some leading parties rebuked the judge for his action, including Shi'ite Muslim movement Hezbollah and the Sunni group led by former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
Some leading parties rebuked the judge for his action, including Shi'ite Muslim movement Hezbollah and the Sunni group led by former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
Image: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Two former Lebanese ministers charged with negligence over a huge explosion at Beirut port in August that killed 200 people indicated on Wednesday they would not appear for questioning before the judge handling the case.

Judge Fadi Sawan charged three former ministers and the caretaker prime minister last week, sparking a fierce debate about whether the judge had the authority to charge the politicians in a nation still seeking answers about the blast.

The explosion added further strains to a country struggling with its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Some leading parties rebuked the judge for his action, including Shi'ite Muslim movement Hezbollah and the Sunni group led by former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.

Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister, and Ghazi Zeaiter, a former public works minister, who were both charged, said they had not been officially informed of Wednesday's session, which protocol demanded.

Both are lawmakers from Amal, the Shi'ite party led by powerful Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri who is allied to Hezbollah.

Sawan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hassan Diab, the caretaker prime minister whose cabinet resigned after the explosion, declined to be questioned on Monday. An official source said the judge set a new appointment for Friday but had yet to receive a response. Diab says his conscience is clear over the matter.

Families of blast victims are increasingly frustrated that details have not emerged from an investigation since the Aug. 4 explosion caused by a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which was stored in unsafe conditions.

The blast, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, injured thousands of people and devastated several districts in the centre of the capital.

Many Lebanese say they have given up hope of finding out the truth about the explosion in a country where a political elite have held power for decades amid corruption and mismanagement, while few in authority have ever been held to account. Politicians say Sawan has been selective and overstepped his powers, while the head of the Beirut Bar Association and others say the judge has shown courage.

Khalil said he played no role in the blast case. The Finance Ministry, which he led from 2014 to early 2020, oversees customs.

Zeaiter, who called the charges "a blatant violation", ran the Public Works Ministry in 2014, soon after ship carrying the ammonium nitrate arrived at the port.

Reuters


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