Attorney General Ghassan Oueidate opens proceedings against Bitar, who is responsible for the investigation. He is accused of (alleged) crimes of “rebellion against justice” and “usurpation of power”. They imposed a ban on leaving the country. The release of the 17 people detained so far, suspected of being involved and awaiting trial, was ordered.
Beirut () – There was a serious rupture within the judiciary yesterday, when the attorney general of the Court of Cassation Ghassan Oueidate summoned magistrate Tarek Bitar, head of the investigation into the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4 2020. The prosecutor filed several cases against Bitar for “rebellion against justice” and “usurpation of power”, also prohibiting him from leaving Lebanese territory.
The day before, Oueidate himself had received a summons from Bitar, along with other legal, military and political personalities. A study to restore and reactivate an investigation that has been paralyzed for 13 months refutes all the arguments, legal means and exceptions used against Bitar, based on suspicions and legitimate prerogatives, to force him to hand over the file.
Oueidate’s summons is accompanied by another decision: to release the 17 people detained awaiting trial since the investigation began, including customs director Badri Daher, who is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement (CLP), and port director Hassan Koraytem. The decision, considered impulsive, extends the scope of an order issued the day before by Bitar, which provided for the release of seven of them and that the judicial police, under the command of Queidate, had not executed. It must be said that Daher was not among the people Bitar had ordered released.
This confrontation seems difficult to resolve, but it has the merit of “bursting the bubble” and putting the focus back on the investigation of the port explosion that caused 235 deaths, injured thousands and inflicted enormous damage on some Beirut neighborhoods. The Superior Council of the Magistracy (CSM), chaired by Souheil Abboud, meets today to discuss it, but the hopes that something more than a new controversy will emerge are low due to the politicization of the file.
Oueidate’s decision is strongly contested by the relatives of the victims and the magistracy. Bitar recalled that the prosecutor had been removed from the file due to his family relationship with one of the defendants cited by the magistrate himself. He is referring to the Lebanese Minister of Transport, Ghazi Zeayter, a member of the Amal Shiite movement.
According to an authorized judicial source, who asks to remain anonymous, both magistrates exceeded their prerogatives and both should be called to order by the Superior Council of the Magistracy. According to this source, Bitar was carried away more by the “state of necessity” -that of advancing the investigation- than by legal arguments. In any case, the source believes that “the release of all the detainees should not have taken place.”
While considering Oueidate’s initiative a “flagrant violation of the law”, Bitar promised “not to abandon the case before formalizing the accusation”. Meanwhile, the relatives of the victims called yesterday for a massive rally in front of the court, which should be joined by members of the protest movement and the Kataëb party.
Weakening of institutions
This conflict at the top of the judiciary further weakens the credibility of the institutions, undermined at the constitutional level by the delay in the election of a new President of the Republic and, from an economic point of view, by the depreciation of the currency national. According to economists, the Lebanese lira has lost up to 97% of its value, plunging a large part of the population into extreme precariousness and paralyzing the school system, which has been on strike for three weeks, and the hospital sector, where patients who want to be admitted or treated must present themselves with their own medications.
Only the police force continues to show signs of cohesion, partly thanks to external donations. In this sense, the United States ambassador, Dorothy Shea, has just announced a donation of more than 72 million euros, which guarantees an additional monthly salary supplement of one hundred euros for six months to each member of the Armed Forces and the Forces of Internal Security.