The investigation into the Beirut port explosion of Aug. 4, 2020 has been stalled for four months by ongoing lawsuits against the investigating judge, Tarek Bitar, and is not about to resume.
The latest obstacle: Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who is close to the Amal Movement, refused to sign the draft decree to appoint six chamber presidents to the Court of Cassation, which would make up the court’s plenary assembly.
But this assembly is the correct jurisdiction in which to unblock the proceedings , because it is the one authorized to rule on the lawsuits brought against the state alleging “serious faults” by Judge Bitar, and by Judge Naji Eid, who is tasked with examining recusal lawsuits lodged against Bitar by Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, MPs and former ministers for Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement.
These appointments were made in March by the Higher Judicial Council and were immediately signed by Justice Minister Henri Khoury. They are necessary in order for the plenary assembly to take the bench.
The lack of quorum (five members) has prevented the 10-member plenary assembly of the Court of Cassation from meeting since January: The number of its members dropped to four following the retirement of the other six members.
Yet, this draft decree, which took two months to be completed due to a political tug-of-war, has stalled at the door of the Finance Minister, at a time when it should be submitted to the prime minister and the president of the republic for approval and publication following the signature of Khalil.
A sectarian-related matter
Why is Khalil abstaining from signing the draft? Because it involves a “fundamental error,” he said in a statement released Saturday, without saying what this “error” is. “We are working to remove the obstacles that prevent the signing of the decree to appoint [the assembly’s members],” Khalil added.
The remarks that President Michel Aoun made the next day in Bkerki. “There is no fundamental error. There are obstacles to justice ..., and you all know who are behind it,” he said in reference to the Hezbollah and Amal..
Khalil did not answer L’Orient-Le Jour’s call on the mistake referred to. Also contacted by L’Orient-Le Jour, a source close to him merely said that “the matter is complex” and that “it is not close to being resolved.”
according to Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hezbollah, the minister refrained from signing for sectarian reasons. According to sources quoted by Al-Akhbar, the finance minister believes that the current composition of the plenary assembly is not in line with the national pact, according to which positions should be shared equally between Christians and Muslims.
It should be noted that five members of the plenary assembly are Muslims and five are Christians, in addition to the fact that the first president of the Court of Cassation, Souheil Abboud, is a Christian.
According to information obtained, the minister considers that Judge Abboud, who is also president of the Higher Judicial Council, should be among the five Christian chamber presidents, that is to say, he should preside over one (the first) of the Court of Cassation’s chambers rather than having another Christian judge appointed to this position.
A source close to the Higher Judicial Council told L’Orient-Le Jour that this is the first time that the six Christians, five Muslims formula has been challenged, although it has been practiced since the Taif Agreement of 1989.
In other words, the Hezbollah and Amal are using any means they can to torpedo Bitar’s investigation.
Contacted by L’Orient-Le Jour, Ghaleb Ghanem, former first president of the Court of Cassation, confirmed that since “at least” the Taif Accord, none of the first presidents of the Court of Cassation have presided over a chamber.
“There is no written or customary rule that imposes a sectarian parity at this level,” Rizk Zgheib, a lawyer and lecturer at the Faculty of Law at USJ, said.
According to Zgheib, “the finance minister must sign the draft decree, and block it only in case of financial imperatives.”
“He has no say” in matters related to sectarian distribution, he stressed, and noted that “the main concerned party in judicial appointments, the justice minister, has signed it himself already.”
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.
The latest obstacle: Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who is close to the Amal Movement, refused to sign the draft decree to appoint six chamber presidents to the Court of Cassation, which would make up the...