BEIRUT — Judge Tarek Bitar, who heads the probe into the deadly Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion, met on Wednesday with a French judicial delegation that arrived in Lebanon to investigate the death of two French citizens in the blast, a judicial source who requested anonymity told L'Orient Today.
The source, who has knowledge of the port blast case, requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press.
The port explosion investigation has been paralyzed for more than a year due to numerous complaints filed against Bitar by senior politicians, including Amal MPs Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zeaiter and former Public Works Minister Yousef Fenianos, are implicated in the probe.
A separate investigation was also opened in France, as two French men were among the estimated 220 victims. Some 93 French citizens were among the more than 6,500 people injured in the blast.
According to a judicial source interviewed by AFP, Bitar explained "the steps already taken by the Lebanese investigation and the obstacles he has faced for over a year," to the two French magistrates on Wednesday. But Bitar "refused to inform the French delegation of the details of the investigation or to provide any documents, arguing that his work is suspended," the source added.
A judicial source explained to L'Orient-Le Jour that the investigating judge must not agree to reveal "any document" as long as he is suspended from the case. Such an act would constitute a criminal offense on the basis of which he would be irrevocably disqualified.
Rights groups and several journalistic investigations found corruption and negligence of the ruling class the main causes behind the explosion, which took place in a warehouse housing hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored without precaution.
Lebanese authorities have repeatedly refused an international investigation, which was requested by the victims' relatives and human rights organizations.
In September, the Higher Judicial Council decided to appoint an alternate investigative judge in the case who would be entitled to rule on certain matters. The decision was not implemented, following pushback from the families of the victims and the head of the Higher Judicial Council, Judge Souheil Abboud.
Earlier this week, several victims' relatives were summoned for questioning after last week's protest in front of the Justice Palace, which escalated into a confrontation with security forces.
Additional reporting by Wael Taleb