BEIRUT — Amal Movement MPs and former ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil, both implicated in the investigation into the deadly 2020 Beirut port explosion, on Monday filed three new appeals, adding to an array of previous appeals, against the lead investigator into the blast Judge Tarek Bitar, accusing him of "usurping administrative authority" and committing "the crime of impersonating Lebanon's top prosecutor," according to legal documents seen by L'Orient Today.
The three different procedures have been confirmed to L'Orient Today by Zeaiter and Khalil's lawyer, Samer Hajj.
The latest port blast investigation developments include Lebanon’s top prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oueidat ordering the release of all detainees held in connection with the case and bringing charges against Bitar for "rebelling against the judiciary."
Bitar has refused to step down from the investigation, saying Oueidat has no authority to charge him. Bitar contends that, as investigating judge, he is subject to executive, not judicial authority.
With the port blast probe stalled for over a year, Bitar attempted to revitalize the investigation last Monday — freeing some individuals detained in the immediate aftermath of the blast and charging top officials, including Oueidat himself. The probe had been impeded by complaints calling for Bitar’s dismissal, and could not, it was widely reported, proceed until the judiciary rules on those cases.
On Monday, Khalil and Zeaiter submitted an appeal against Bitar asking for his transfer to the Judicial Inspection. They also filed an appeal "out of legitimate suspicion of the impartiality of the judge's impartiality" at the Court of Cassation.
Khalil, who is a close advisor to Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, also filed a lawsuit against Bitar at the Court of Cassation.
The text of the complaint lodged by Khalil accuses Bitar of: "Abuse of power and breach of job duties," "violations of judicial decisions," "provoking sectarian and racist strife," "inciting conflict between sects," "the crime of usurping administrative authority," and "the crime of impersonating the cassation public prosecutor and the capacity of a judicial investigator whose hands are not bound."
In November 2021, Khalil and Zeaiter also filed a lawsuit against the Lebanese state for “serious faults” committed by Beirut Appeals Court judge after the court declared itself incompetent to rule on a request for dismissal presented by Zeaiter and Khalil against Bitar. The request had then joined a similar appeal filed in September of the same year before the same court by former minister and former MP Nohad Machnouk, who is also implicated in the blast probe.
Meanwhile, a few dozen demonstrators gathered on Sunday afternoon in Paris, on Victor Hugo Square, to express their support for Bitar, as well as for the families of the more than 220 victims of the Aug.4, 2020 tragedy that shook Lebanon.
The sit-in followed Oueidat's decisions which were viewed by many observers as politically motivated and aimed at blocking the investigation in order to protect the ruling political class, which is accused by a segment of the population of having done nothing to prevent the explosion of a massive quantity of ammonium nitrate that had been stored for years without safety measures at the port.