BEIRUT — Forces of Change MPs issued a statement Wednesday criticizing yesterday's decision by the Higher Judicial Council to appoint an alternative judge for the port blast investigation, calling the move a "fatal blow" to the role of current lead investigating judge Tarek Bitar.
MP Najat Aoun Saliba was seen attending a sit-in against the decision, held at the Justice Palace Wednesday by the families of the Aug. 4 port blast victims.
The MPs' joint statement derided caretaker Justice Minister Henry Khoury for "targeting justice" amid the blast investigation, by "fabricating an illegal exit ... to appoint a new judicial investigator." The appointment would serve as a "fatal blow to the role of the current judicial investigator, Tarek Bitar."
The written statement suggested that rather than replacing Bitar, caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil should have "signed the decree forming the General Assembly of the Court of Cassation," a body that is charged with examining all the judicial procedures launched against Bitar by MPs and other politicians.
MPs vowed in the statement to "confront" Tuesday's decision to appoint an alternative judge.
The blast investigation has been stalled by multiple political maneuvers and is currently suspended due to different complaints filed against judge Bitar by political figures, notably MPs Ghazi Zeaiter, Ali Hassan Khalil and former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos — all of whom are suspects in the investigation and have had warrants filed for their arrest.
Caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who is close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, has been accused of impeding the investigation by not signing judicial appointments, which have been blocked for several months for political reasons, putting the port blast probe on hold.
Reporting contributed by Mohammad Yassine