Lebanon's public prosecutor demands answers over Hezbollah blast probe threats

Judge leading the investigation issued new dates for the questioning of ministers

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil speaks during a meeting in Beirut, Lebanon June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

Lebanon's public prosecutor called on the judge leading the investigation into last year's explosion at Beirut port to clarify allegations that a senior Hezbollah official threatened proceedings.

Ghassan Ouidat took to Twitter to ask judge Tarek Bitar to respond in writing to allegations that he had been threatened by Hezbollah security chief Wafiq Safa.

The requested followed a local media reported that Mr Safa had threatened to remove the judge from the investigation, claiming Hezbollah was “fed up” with it.

Also on Tuesday, dates were set for the questioning of several former ministers and MPs after some of them failed to show up for inquiry sessions as part of the investigation into the explosion, which killed more than 200 people on August 4.

Mr Bitar summoned former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil for September 30 and former agriculture minister Ghazi Zeaiter and former Interior Minister Nouhad Al Machnouk on October 1.

The three have claimed to hold parliamentary immunity throughout the investigation. But under Lebanese law, the immunity does not apply between the confirmation of a government and the start of the parliamentary term. Parliament will resume on October 19 after the new government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati was confirmed on Monday.

Mr Bitar previously wrote to Parliament, asking for the three legislators' immunities to be revoked to allow the investigation to question them. The request was not granted.

Mr Khalil and Mr Zeaiter were both formally charged with negligence in connection with the explosion. The charges led to outrage among Lebanon’s political class, and resulted in the removal of the Mr Bitar's predecessor, Fadi Sawan.

Former prime minister Hassan Diab's hearing was rescheduled for October 4. He missed questioning on Monday for a four-week trip to the US on personal matters.

Last week, Mr Bitar issued an arrest warrant for former minister of public works Youssef Fenianos after he did not appear for questioning, sending two lawyers in his place.

Updated: September 21st 2021, 4:23 PM
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