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Morning Brief

Lawyers ask to remove Bitar, fuel prices jump again, ration card delayed: Everything you need to know today

Here’s what happened yesterday and what to expect today, Thursday, Sept. 23

Lawyers ask to remove Bitar, fuel prices jump again, ration card delayed: Everything you need to know today

Youssef Fenianos, an MP and former minister charged in relation to the Beirut blast probe, is petitioning to have the lead investigator removed from the case. (Credit: João Sousa/L’Orient Today)

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Lawyers for a fugitive ex-minister have petitioned to remove Tarek Bitar from the Beirut port blast investigation, a judicial source told L’Orient Today. The complaint, filed at the Court of Cassation on behalf of Youssef Fenianos, alleges “legitimate suspicion” of bias on the part of the investigator. Fenianos headed the Public Works Ministry, which oversees the port, from 2016 till early 2020. Bitar issued an arrest warrant for the former minister a week ago after he failed to appear for questioning. Fenianos has claimed that he is the victim of “great injustice” in the probe, accusing Bitar of rushing legal proceedings. The motion to remove the lead investigator is similar to one submitted earlier this year by former ministers Ali Hasan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, who were both charged by Bitar’s predecessor, Fadi Sawwan. The court removed Sawwan in February.

The Energy Ministry raised gasoline prices a further 16 percent, the second increase in less than a week. A 20-liter tank of 95-octane gasoline now costs LL202,400, up LL76,000 from its price a week ago. The skyrocketing prices come as Banque du Liban reduces its fuel subsidies, currently a major drain on the central bank’s foundering finances. The new price is based on a subsidized exchange rate of LL14,000 to the US dollar, the head of the fuel importers’ syndicate told L’Orient Today.

Registration for the long-awaited ration card program has been delayed as ministers study the “mechanism and criteria to implement” it, the new social affairs minister said. Registration was supposed to begin on Sept. 15 for the program, which aims to cushion the effects of BDL’s essential goods subsidies ending by providing a small monthly stipend to half a million Lebanese families. As those subsidies end and the economic crisis deepens, consumer prices have soared: the cost of transportation and food nearly quadrupled from August 2020 to August 2021, data from the Central Administration of Statistics show, with overall inflation vaulting 138 percent. The increased costs come with a high price tag, with some families choosing to miss meals to feed their children.

Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee will meet today to examine several issues related to the crisis. The MPs’ agenda includes a laundry list of items related to medicine, interest on debts and supplementary funds for state telecoms operator Ogero. Committee member Yassine Jaber told L’Orient Today that the committee is also working on the issue of the exchange rate used for bank withdrawals “around the clock, and this is why during this session we will raise other priorities that also need to be urgently addressed.” Meanwhile, Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, central bank Gov. Riad Salameh and representatives from the International Monetary Fund met to discuss how to use $1.14 billion from the IMF’s recent disbursement of Special Drawing Rights. A portion of those funds is expected to go toward the state’s ration card, but authorities have yet to allocate spending.


Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.Lawyers for a fugitive ex-minister have petitioned to remove Tarek Bitar from the Beirut port blast investigation, a judicial source told L’Orient Today. The complaint, filed at the Court of Cassation on behalf of Youssef Fenianos, alleges “legitimate suspicion” of bias on the part of the investigator. Fenianos headed the Public...