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PORT INVESTIGATION

Hezbollah threat targets port investigator; interrogations for three sitting MPs scheduled

Hezbollah threat targets port investigator; interrogations for three sitting MPs scheduled

The Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion left more than 218 people dead. (Credit: AFP)

BEIRUT – Port explosion investigator Judge Tarek Bitar on Tuesday summoned three members of Parliament for questioning in relation to the catastrophic Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion, a judicial source told L'Orient Today. Separately, a different judicial source confirmed to our sister publication L'Orient-Le Jour reports that Hezbollah's security chief had threatened the judge.

Here’s what we know:

    • Bitar summoned MP and former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, MP and former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter and MP and former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.

    • Machnouk’s appearance before Bitar is scheduled for Sept. 30, while Khalil and Zeaiter have been summoned to appear on Oct. 1.

    • The decision to summon the three MPs for questioning comes less than 24 hours after Parliament voted to grant confidence to Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government, ending nearly 13 months of caretaker-government status.

    • Lebanese law states that within the period starting from Parliament’s vote of confidence in a new cabinet until the date its regular session begins — scheduled for Oct. 19 — MPs no longer enjoy the protection of parliamentary immunity. This period until the next parliamentary session can be shortened only by convening the legislature in an extraordinary session, which requires President Michel Aoun and Mikati to sign a decree to this effect.

    • Whether the extraordinary session will be convened has not yet been decided, Aoun’s media adviser told L’Orient Today.

    • The judge in July sent a letter to Parliament requesting the removal of the three legislators’ parliamentary immunities. Article 40 of Lebanon’s constitution stipulates that MPs are protected from being prosecuted or arrested for any criminal offense without Parliament’s permission, unless caught in the act.

    • Khalil and Zeaiter, both Amal MPs, had been previously charged with criminal negligence and summoned for questioning by Bitar’s predecessor Judge Fadi Sawwan, who was removed from the investigation in February after the two MPs challenged the summons and asked for him to be replaced.

    • Separately, a different judicial source confirmed to our sister publication L’Orient-Le Jour reports from LBCI journalist Edmond Sassine that Bitar had received a threatening message from Hezbollah security chief Wafic Safa, who allegedly said, “We have had enough of you. We will go to the end of the legal path, and if that does not work, we will remove you by force.” It was not confirmed whether the message was received verbally or via text. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has become increasingly critical of Bitar’s investigation in recent weeks, publicly accusing the judge of political bias and suggesting he should be removed from his role if he continues in this manner. 

    • Hezbollah’s spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.  


BEIRUT – Port explosion investigator Judge Tarek Bitar on Tuesday summoned three members of Parliament for questioning in relation to the catastrophic Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion, a judicial source told L'Orient Today. Separately, a different judicial source confirmed to our sister publication L'Orient-Le Jour reports that Hezbollah's security chief had threatened the judge.Here’s...