Lebanon High Court Says Prosecutor Can Resume Beirut Port Explosion Investigation

Almost 30 people have been arrested since the probe into August's deadly blast began, which killed more than 200 people, but fears remain that culture of impunity and pressure from prominent groups could derail inquiry

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Smoke rises after an explosion the day before at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020
Smoke rises after an explosion the day before at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020Credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Lebanon’s highest court said Monday the prosecutor investigating last year’s massive explosion at the Beirut port that killed dozens and injured thousands can resume his work after a three-week pause following legal challenges to his authority.

The Court of Cassation's decision gives the green light to Judge Fadi Sawwan to question officials and civil servants over the August 4 explosion of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used mostly as a fertilizer. The blast killed more than 200 people, injured over 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital.

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The court's decision, reported by the official state news agency, is likely to ease concerns by members of the public who feared the investigation might end given Lebanon's decades-long culture of impunity.

Nearly 30 people, most of them port and customs officials, have been arrested since the blast. Last month, Sawwan filed charges against caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers, accusing them of negligence leading to the deaths of hundreds of people.

Diab and the three former ministers did not show up for questioning following the charges.

The summoning sparked concerted criticism from most of Lebanon’s top politicians and the militant Hezbollah group, which urged Sawwan to reconsider his decision, describing it as politically motivated.

Sawwan paused his investigation to allow him to respond to accusations that he violated legal and constitutional procedures by summoning for questioning Diab and the three former ministers.

Many critics have seen the attacks on Sawwan as an attempt by the political elite to prevent setting a precedent that might bring accountability at the highest level.

Two of the accused former ministers, who are currently members of parliament, challenged Sawwan’s decision to question them and asked the Court of Cassation to replace him, citing “legitimate suspicion” over its legality.

The court, the highest in the country, had not decided on the matter regarding the two ministers as of Monday, state-run National News Agency said.

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