Lebanon PM says officials should be tried before special body

Najib Mikati also signed draft law to hold accountable those responsible for Beirut port explosion

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati attends a joint press conference with Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh (not pictured) following their meeting in Beirut in September. EPA
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Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in an interview on Wednesday that senior government officials must be tried before a special body in line with the constitution. He also said he has signed a draft law to lift immunity on all officials who might be implicated in last year's Beirut port explosion.

Mr Mikati told Sky News Arabia the draft law is a bid to hold accountable those responsible for the massive explosion on August 2020 that killed more than 214 people and destroyed large swathes of the capital.

More than a year later, it remains unclear what triggered the explosion of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stockpiled at the port for more than six years. Who owned the explosive chemicals or why they were kept for so long at one of the country’s busiest facilities also remain a mystery.

Judge Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator in the case, has indicted four ex-ministers along with former prime minister Hassan Diab of criminal negligence in connection with the case. But all five officials have snubbed Mr Bitar’s summons, arguing he had no authority to prosecute them.

Parliament also denied Mr Bitar’s request to question three of the former ministers, who are also lawmakers.

The supreme court had removed Mr Bitar’s predecessor after senior officials petitioned the court over doubts of his impartiality.

The stalled investigation prompted the families of victims to accuse politicians of blocking the probe to evade justice.

Families of the Beirut blast victims take part in a protest in front of the port entrance in October. EPA

The blast compounded Lebanon’s financial meltdown, causing billions of dollars in damage at the port and across the capital Beirut.

Mr Mikati said his government has drafted a plan to rebuild the port and will provide aid to the victims' families.

Mr Mikati was appointed to lead a government after a year of political paralysis left the country without a functioning Cabinet amid its worst economic crisis in decades.

Mr Mikati pledged to enact much-needed reforms that the international community is demanding before providing Lebanon with financial support.

His Cabinet will also be responsible for holding parliamentary elections in the spring.

Mr Mikati said he has yet to decide whether to run.

Updated: October 07, 2021, 7:20 AM