By Laila Bassam and Maha El Dahan
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Monday called for the replacement of the lead investigator in the deadly Beirut port explosion, saying he was biased and politicized, in his harshest criticism of the manager since his appointment.
“The targeting is clear, you choose certain officials and certain people. The bias is clear,” he said in television comments, adding that Judge Tarek Bitar would never reach the truth if he pursued the case. investigation.
Nasrallah openly called for Bitar’s replacement, saying he wanted a “transparent” judge.
Bitar is not authorized to speak to the media in his capacity as an investigating judge.
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Investigation into the August 4, 2020 explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, made little headway amid a campaign against Bitar and the retreat of powerful Lebanese factions.
The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the capital, but no senior official was held responsible.
Wafik Safa, a senior official with powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah, warned Bitar last month that the group would remove him from the investigation, according to a reporter and a court source.
The Minister of Justice and the judiciary acted on the warning.
Hezbollah has become one of the most powerful political actors in Lebanon in recent years.
Bitar’s efforts to question former and current state officials, including the prime minister at the time of the explosion, former ministers and senior security officials suspected of negligence have been repeatedly blocked.
Legal complaints have also been filed questioning his impartiality. The investigation was frozen for a week earlier this month as one of those complaints, ultimately dismissed by the court, was investigated.
Bitar has scheduled sessions to interview former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former public works minister Ghazi Zeiter this week, both allies of Hezbollah, but they are not expected to appear.
While Bitar has sought to interview several politicians allied to the group, he has not sought to interview any member of Hezbollah himself.
Bitar is the second judge whose investigation has been hampered by powerful factions in Lebanon, where lack of high-level accountability is blamed for systemic corruption, government stalemate and economic collapse.
His predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was dismissed from his post in February by a Lebanese court following a complaint against him by a former civil servant whom he had accused of negligence.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Peter Cooney)
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