| 22 May 2024, Wednesday |

Lebanese parliament tells judge he can’t subpoena PM Diab

After caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab failed to appear for questioning, the Lebanese parliament notified the court investigating last year’s Beirut Port Blast that he had overstepped his bounds by issuing a subpoena for him.

In July, Judge Tarek Bitar, who is directing the investigation into the massive explosion, issued subpoenas for Diab and other top officials, including former ministers, who had been accused by his predecessor with negligence in connection with the blast.

All of them have categorically denied any wrongdoing.

The secretary general of parliament stated in a letter to the prosecutor that the subpoena was outside of Bitar’s jurisdiction.

The explosion on Aug. 4, 2020 was caused by a massive quantity of ammonium nitrate left unsafely at the port for years. It killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and devastated swathes of capital.

Many people in Lebanon are furious that no senior officials have been brought to account.

The inquiry has repeatedly stalled with the first lead judge removed in February after a court granted the request of two of the former ministers he had charged with negligence for the disaster.

Influential factions have accused Bitar of bias. The powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah this month accused him of playing politics.

Sunni politicians, including former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, have objected to the investigator’s moves against Diab, saying the post of prime minister – reserved for a Sunni in the Lebanese sectarian system – has been singled out.

In a statement late on Thursday, former prime ministers including Hariri said President Michel Aoun, the Maronite Christian head of state, had known about the chemicals at the port and said he had done nothing effective to avoid the blast.

They said immunity should be lifted from Aoun, saying the investigation was being directed from the presidential palace.

Bitar has not commented on accusations that he is pursuing a political agenda.

After the blast, Aoun said he had been informed about the chemicals and directed the Supreme Defense Council, an umbrella group of security and military agencies chaired by the president, to “do what is necessary”.

He has denied responsibility and said he was ready to testify.

Some MPs have been pressing for the probe into senior officials to be referred to a special council that hears cases against former presidents and ministers. Critics fear this will effectively derail the judicial inquiry.

  • Reuters