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The Beirut port explosion investigation has been suspended after Judge Tarek Bitar was officially notified of a dismissal case against him brought by MP and former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk. Per Lebanese law, the investigation cannot continue while the Court of Appeals studies Machnouk’s complaint. Legal experts expect that Machnouk’s case will fail to unseat Bitar, but may succeed in buying time for the legislator. When Parliament goes back into session on Oct. 19, MPs such as Machnouk will once again be immune from prosecution. Immunity could also be brought back should an extraordinary session of Parliament be convened, although President Michel Aoun has not yet exercised that option. Machnouk’s case is one of four* that are currently being levied against Bitar by members of the political class.
Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee rejected a request from Banque du Liban to extend the deadline for a decision on a new Lebanese dollar, or lollar, exchange rate. BDL must stick to the original deadline of Thursday, the expiration date for Circular 151, which established LL3,900 as the rate at which lollars — US dollar-denominated deposits trapped in Lebanese banks accounts due to illegal capital controls — can be withdrawn. The circular was first issued in April 2020 and was extended in March of this year, but it apparently wasn’t until days before expiry that BDL made its request that it be given more time to study the issue and the committee responded with a rejection.
A revised distribution plan for Lebanon’s long-awaited ration card for vulnerable families will arrive “in the coming days,” according to Economy Minister Amin Salam. Registration for the ration card was scheduled to begin on Sept. 15, but has been delayed while ministers work out the “mechanism and criteria to implement” the card. Once implemented, the program, which is envisaged to replace subsidies on essential products, will aim to provide a small monthly stipend to half a million Lebanese families.
Parliamentary elections, the Beirut port blast probe and Iranian fuel were on the agenda last night during a wide-ranging interview given by Prime Minister Najib Miktai on LBCI’s “Vision 2030” program. Mikati indicated that parliamentary elections would take place on March 27, rather than the previously planned May 8. The change has been the subject of rumors for the past week. Mikati also expressed support for Bitar while stating that he would not interfere in judicial matters, an allusion to the lawsuits seeking to remove the Beirut blast investigator. He also appeared to take aim at Hezbollah’s importation of Iranian fuel, saying that he wouldn’t allow Lebanon to become a platform for the aggravation of Arab states. Finally, Mikati said his government would prioritize protecting small depositors and a fair distribution of losses in the financial sector.
*The Morning Brief originally stated that Bitar has two cases pending against him. In fact, he has four cases pending against him.