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France regrets suspension of investigation into Beirut port explosion

France expressed its "regret", on Wednesday, for suspending the investigation into the explosion of the port of Beirut, estimating that the Lebanese have a "right to know" what happened and that the Lebanese judiciary should be able to "work with complete transparency away from any political interference."

"It is up to the Lebanese authorities to allow the investigation to continue with the necessary financial and human resources, in order to shed light on what happened on August 4, 2020, in line with the legitimate expectations of the Lebanese people," the French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

It is reported that the ongoing investigations into the Beirut seaport explosion were halted today after the investigating judge, Tariq Al-Bitar, was informed of a request for a response submitted by the lawyer of one of the defendants in the case, the former Lebanese Minister of Interior and Member of Parliament Nouhad Machnouk, last Friday.

The interruption of the investigations is the second, as two of the defendants in the case had previously submitted a response request last December to the former investigative judge, Fadi Sawan.

The investigative judge in the Beirut sea port explosion case came to his office at the Palace of Justice this morning and held the first investigation session with a number of wanted persons in the case and listened to their testimony. Immediately after the end of the session, he was officially informed that one of the accused had submitted a request to dismiss him, which legally requires the judge to stop the investigation until the completion of the consideration of the response request.

Accordingly, the investigating judge, Tariq Al-Bitar, did not enter the second investigation session in the case, which was predetermined to complete the hearing of the testimony of Brigadier General Camille Daher, the former director of intelligence in the Lebanese army, who left the headquarters of the Palace of Justice with his lawyer without listening to him and giving his testimony.

It is scheduled to stop the investigations indefinitely until the Court of Appeal, headed by Judge Nassib Elia, decides on the response request submitted by Al-Machnouk’s lawyer, without specifying a specific time period for considering the response request, which, if accepted, will be assigned to another judge, and in the event of his refusal, it will continue. Judge Tariq Al-Bitar.

The former Lebanese Minister of Interior and Member of Parliament, Nouhad Al-Machnouk, had submitted a request to dismiss Judge Tariq Al-Bitar, the investigative judge in the Beirut seaport explosion, to remove him from hearing the case and appoint another investigator to replace him.

This came in response to Investigative Judge Tariq Al-Bitar’s setting the first of next October as a date to interrogate MP Nohad Al-Mashnouq as a former Minister of the Interior as a defendant (accused) in the Beirut port explosion case.. Al-Mashnouq stressed that summoning Al-Bitar as a suspect is a violation of the constitution and in violation of its provisions and the principles of trial of presidents and ministers. He explained that his attorney, Naoum Farah, had submitted a request to the Court of Appeal in Beirut to dismiss Judge Al-Bitar and appoint another judicial investigator to replace him.

He explained that Judge Al-Bitar’s request for the result came for what Al-Machnouk described as an “assault” on his competence to pursue ministers unjustly, despite the clarity of Article 70 of the Constitution, which limited the power to accuse ministers to the Parliament alone, and Article 71 of the Constitution, which assigned their trial to the Supreme Council for the trial of presidents and ministers. In light of his acknowledgment in return that he has no authority to prosecute the judges involved in the case and refer them to the investigation before the competent authority.

Al-Mashnouq said, "Despite the clarity of the text and the Parliament's adherence to its authority, and despite the Public Prosecution's reading in this sense, Judge Al-Bitar refused to move forward with his transgressions of the Constitution, although the Parliament is still considering the indictment submitted before him against Al-Machnouk and other ministers from a number of deputies, and his decision has not yet been issued. on this matter to date.”

On July 2, the investigating judge in the Beirut port explosion case, Tariq Bitar, decided to indict a number of senior officials, including former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, former Finance Minister MP Ali Hassan Khalil, and former Minister of Works MP Ghazi Zuaiter. The former Minister of Interior, MP Nohad Al-Machnouk, and a number of security and military officials and judges.

Bitar is the second investigative judge in charge of the case, as he took over the investigations after changing the former investigative judge Fadi Sawan in light of the request for response "disqualification", which was submitted by former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zuaiter against Judge Fadi Sawan, accusing him of taking measures that raise suspicion, suspicion and fear. The failure to achieve fair justice against them, and the failure to observe legal procedures in light of the parliamentary immunity they enjoy as members of Parliament.

A devastating explosion occurred inside Beirut seaport on August 4, 2020, as a result of the fire igniting 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which had been stored in the port’s warehouses for 6 years, which led to the destruction of a large part of the port, as well as the death of about 200 people were injured and more than 6 thousand others were injured, and the buildings and facilities of the capital were severely damaged by the force of the explosion, which required declaring Beirut a “disaster city.”

The Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, said that the government confirms its keenness to complete all investigations to determine the causes of the Beirut seaport explosion, stressing the quest to reveal the full truth and punish all perpetrators.

In his presentation of the ministerial statement of his government in the parliament session, Mikati added that the government intends to work with Parliament to take all necessary measures regarding immunities and privileges in order to overcome all obstacles that prevent the realization of truth and the establishment of justice, in reference to the demands of the families of the victims of the explosion to drop all immunities for those wanted by the judiciary. From ministers, representatives and officials, while political forces demand the adoption of legislation that suspends all legal and constitutional immunities and exceptions in trials, starting with the president of the republic and even all state employees and officials.

He explained that the government is also committed to expediting the completion of assistance to those affected by the explosion, securing the necessary compensation for them, and setting a plan for the reconstruction of the port and the various areas in the capital, Beirut, which were damaged by the explosion.

Mikati considered that his government was formed in the name of "a government together to save", calling for permanent and constructive cooperation with Parliament to translate the common goals in saving Lebanon, protecting the Lebanese, preserving their dignity, ending their daily suffering and stopping the emigration hemorrhage that bleeds the hearts of all Lebanese - as he described it.