Lebanon: judge issues arrest warrant against former minister following Beirut explosion

The judge investigating the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut last year issued an arrest warrant for a former minister after he failed to appear for questioning, according to a court source.

“Judge Tareq Bitar has issued an arrest warrant in absentia against former Minister of Public Works and Transport Youssef Fenianos,” the source said Thursday.

It is unclear where Fenianos, 57, who led the ministry from 2016 to early 2020, is.

Bitar, who is now leading the investigation into the huge explosion, also asked in July to question former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and other senior officials.

The lead investigator had previously summoned at least four former ministers, including three lawmakers. The accused officials include Diab, Finianos and Ghazi Zeiter, also a former public works minister, ex-interior minister Nouhad Machnouk, as well as general security chief Major General Abbas Ibrahim.

Parliament has so far rejected Bitar’s demands to lift the immunity of several high-ranking lawmakers and security chiefs so that they can be questioned on suspicion of criminal negligence, as well as manslaughter with probable intent. .

Political parties from all walks of life accused Bitar of “politicizing” the investigation.

A court dismissed a first investigating judge after charging Diab and former ministers with “negligence and causing the death of hundreds of people” after all refused to appear before him.

The August 2020 explosion left more than 200 dead, thousands injured and razed several neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital.

The massive explosion was caused by the ignition of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, stored in a port warehouse filled with other hazardous materials since 2014.

After the August 4 explosion, it emerged that senior security officials and Lebanese politicians had known for years of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored haphazardly in the Port of Beirut, but had not taken any precautionary measures.

Rights groups and victims’ families accuse Lebanese officials of obstructing the investigation into the blast, which has so far failed to hold senior officials to account or reveal the exact causes. the catastrophe.

On Thursday, the families of the victims demonstrated outside the Beirut courthouse and blocked a nearby road, angry at the lack of progress in the investigation.

The explosion left the Lebanese economy in tatters, which is already reeling from multiple crises, including the collapse of its banking system, runaway inflation and the coronavirus pandemic.

Observers say US-led Western interference and sanctions have compounded the worsening financial and political crisis across Lebanon.

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