BEIRUT — The First President of the Beirut Court of Appeal, Habib Rizkallah, has been appointed by the President of the Higher Judicial Council, Souheil Abboud, to investigate a lawsuit brought by the Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat against Tarek Bitar, the investigating judge in the Beirut port blast probe.
The explosion killed more than 220 people, injured 6,500 and devastated large swathes of the Lebanese capital.
The information was confirmed to L'Orient-Le Jour on Tuesday by a source close to the HJC who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source said they did know whether or not a hearing of Tarek Bitar by investigating judge Habib Rizkallah had already been scheduled.
The source added that the decision was likely made several weeks ago.
The Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, Ghassan Oueidat, had brought an action against Tarek Bitar after the latter had initiated proceedings against him in January. Oueidat's action against Judge Bitar was based on complaints of "usurpation of power" and "rebellion against justice."
‘Highly respected’ magistrate
Another senior judicial source told L'Orient-Le Jour that Tarek Bitar has not yet been notified of any hearing date by Habib Rizkallah. "Judge Rizkallah is a highly respected magistrate, known for his independence," the source added, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
Any decision by Judge Rizkallah can be appealed in front of an Indictment Chamber, which the HJC will have to appoint. Such an appeal may be lodged by either Tarek Bitar or Ghassan Oueidat.
In January, when he decided to resume his investigation into the blast after a 13-month hiatus, Bitar prosecuted several officials for their alleged involvement, including Oueidat.
In response, the public prosecutor ordered the release of the 17 suspects detained without trial since August 2020. Oueidat had previously withdrawn from the case due to his family relationship with one of the former ministers indicted, Ghazi Zeaiter.
Relatives of the Aug. 4 victims still demonstrate regularly to denounce the lack of progress in the investigation, and last Thursday they promised to "intensify" the movement.
Following last week's demonstration, William Noun and Peter Bou Saab, whose brothers Joe Noun and Joe Bou Saab were killed in the double explosion, were summoned for questioning on June 7 at Beirut's Verdun police station, on charges of "vandalism."