BEIRUT — Dozens of family members of the Aug. 4, 2020 port explosion victims protested Tuesday in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut as the Higher Judicial Council convened, without its head Soheil Abboud, to appoint an alternate judge in the blast probe.
A point of controversy, the newly appointed judge would serve as an alternate for the current lead port blast investigating judge Tarek Bitar, to rule on the status of detainees in the case.
However, Tuesday’s session lost quorum after top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat withdrew before attendees could appoint the new judge, a representative of the victims’ families told L’Orient Today.
Oueidat could not be immediately reached for comment.
In a statement published by the state-run National News Agency, the HJC said it will meet again on Oct. 18 at 1 p.m.
"The members of the HJC have assured that they met today out of duty and in accordance with the law, far from any political atmosphere, in order to ensure the continuity of the judiciary's work and monitor the moral and financial work conditions of the judges," the statement said.
The decision to appoint an alternate judge has been mired with criticism. On Monday, the head of the Higher Judicial Council Soheil Aboud announced that he would not attend Tuesday's meeting because of what he referred to as "political interferences."
In a statement issued after its weekly meeting, the Aounist bloc denounced "the behavior of the president of the Higher Judicial Council Souhail Abboud," accusing him of "violating laws" and "obstructing the course of justice."
The bloc called for Judge Abboud to be referred for judicial inspection "because of his flagrant violation of legal texts, including Article 1 of the Law on Corruption in the Public Sector and Articles 371, 374 and 377 of the Penal Code, which punish the abuse of power."
Caretaker Justice Minister Henry Khoury had scheduled the Tuesday meeting, though Abboud said the move constituted an interference in the work of the judiciary.
A representative of the blast victims' families told L'Orient Today on Tuesday afternoon that they left the Justice Palace after being informed that the session had ended without a quorum.
Last month, Khoury and the Higher Judicial Council decided they would appoint an alternate judge for the port blast investigation, likely to rule on those detained as part of the case. The detainees have been held without trial as the investigation is suspended due to requests filed against Bitar by senior officials summoned by Bitar. One of the detainees is former Customs Director Badri Daher, who has ties with the Free Patriotic Movement.