BEIRUT — "A great victory that paves the way to justice."
This was the first reaction on Instagram by Tracy Naggear — mother of three-year-old Alexandra who was killed by the Aug. 4, 2020 port blast — when she learned of the decision by the High Court of Justice in London ordering Savaro Ltd to pay compensation to the victims' relatives, including £200,000 to the Naggears.
The information was confirmed by the Beirut Bar Association's Prosecution Office, which filed the civil suit against the company for its responsibility in the ammonium nitrate stockpile explosion that claimed more than 220 lives, injured 6,500 people and devastated swathes of the capital.
In a press release Monday, the Beirut Bar Association hailed the decision, which it said "restores hope to the victims and shows that the law always wins."
The text states that on Monday, the British justice system heard testimony from the law firm "Dechert LLP," of which lawyer Camille Abousleiman is a senior partner, and which had brought the action against Savaro Ltd in August 2021.
The British decision follows a verdict handed down in February by the High Court of Justice, which recognized the responsibility of Savaro Ltd, a chemical trading company, towards the victims of the tragedy. Now closed, Savaro Ltd was said to have purchased the cargo of ammonium nitrate in Georgia that caused the deadly explosion in Beirut.
In an investigation published in January 2021, Lebanese investigative journalist Firas Hatoum established a link between Savaro Ltd and three Syrian-Russian businessmen close to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
"Nearly three years after the double explosion at the port of Beirut, this is the first time that victims of the disaster have obtained a damages judgment in their favor," Abousleiman told L'Orient-Le Jour. "This is an important step in the quest for justice, at a time when the Lebanese investigation, unfortunately, seems to have stalled beyond repair."
The court also ordered that £100,000 (around $125,000) be paid to Elie Mallahi, father of firefighter Ralph Mallahi who was killed in the explosion, and more than $690,000 (over £500,000) in compensation to a fourth person, Inaam Kayyal, who has been severely injured and disabled since the explosion, according to the prosecution's statement. This amount corresponds to the hospitalization costs she has had to pay and will have to pay in the future. In total: more than a million dollars in compensation for these four people.
"The High Court of Justice in London calculated damages on the basis of Lebanese law, which is more favorable than English law in this respect, and the average amount a victim's next of kin can obtain is around £15,000 for death cases," explained Abousleiman.
That said, the lawyer tempered his optimism, saying there were "difficulties in enforcing the judgment," especially as "Savaro Ltd is a company that doesn't seem to have any assets."
'I don't think we'll get anything, but...'
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, Tracy Naggear said she is not hopeful of actually receiving the compensation claimed. "I don't think we'll get anything. But it may help the investigation," she continues.
Elie Mallahi is more optimistic: "I expect we'll get the compensation."
"We must always hope that justice will be done for the death of our children," he added.
As for Inaam Kayyal, she says she "wasn't even aware of the decision." Letting out a sigh, she said: "If it was serious, I would have heard more about it. In any case, this company is fictitious and closed." For her, the decision is more symbolic than anything else, and believes the damages will not really be paid.
What about the others?
The court decision ordering Savaro Ltd to pay compensation was handed down by British judge Roger Eastman. No representative of the trading company appeared at the trial, which followed a civil claim filed on Aug. 2, 2021. The proceedings were initiated by the former President of the Beirut Bar and current MP Melhem Khalaf in cooperation with other lawyers, including Camille Abousleiman and Chucri Haddad.
What about other relatives of victims of the explosion? "We're not concerned, simply because we haven't asked for any financial compensation," explains William Noun, brother of firefighter Joe Noun, who was killed in the blast. For him, the important thing is "for justice to do its job and find out the truth" about the Aug. 4 tragedy.