Beirut Port blast inquiry suspended on request to remove judge over bias investigation

The inquiry for the Beirut Port blast has been suspended after an accused former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk formally notified the investigator of the request to dismiss him from the case.

As per Lebanese law, Judge Tarek Bitar was forced to halt the investigation.

He had already filed new requests to the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities to summon General Security Chief Major-General Abbas Ibrahim and State Security Chief Major-General Tony Saliba on Monday, and had to cancel the scheduled interrogations with two brigadier-generals.

The judiciary will determine whether Bitar will continue leading the inquiry. Bitar has been accused of continuously going after politicians, current and former office bearers, military personnel and other senior security officials.

Machnouk, a sitting parliamentarian, as well as ex-Public Works Minister Youssef Finianos, requested to remove Bitar from the blast investigation last week, accusing the judge of bias and misconduct – “abnormal behaviour” and “double standards” while conducting the investigation.

More than 200 people were killed in the Beirut blast on August 4, 2020, after a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored unsafely at the port for years, detonated.

About 6,500 people were injured and entire neighbourhoods in Lebanon’s capital were destroyed.

The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions recorded and was the most destructive single incident in the country’s troubled history.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, legal activists, and families of the blast victims accused Lebanon’s political elite of obstructing the investigation and said they fear “total impunity” for officials involved.