Saad Hariri demands end to immunity for officials in Beirut blast probe

Families of victims said a petition signed by Lebanese MPs last week could impede the investigation

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. AFP
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Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday said immunity from prosecution in the Beirut port blast investigation should be lifted from the country's president, prime minister, ministers and judges.

More than 200 people were killed when hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, which had been stored unsafely in a dockside warehouse for years, exploded last August.

The blast destroyed large areas of the capital and injured more than 6,500 residents – but an investigation to find out who was responsible for the disaster has yet to produce a prosecution.

“I am here to present the only solution to arrive at the truth,” Mr Hariri said.

“Our proposal is to take an extraordinary decision to suspend all constitutional and legal articles that grant immunity or special treatment to try the president of the republic, the prime minister, ministers, representatives, judges, officials and even lawyers.”

Mr Hariri is the most senior Lebanese politician to demand lifting immunity in the blast probe. His proposal came less than two weeks after he resigned from his position as prime minister-designate.

Mr Hariri, who is also a legislator, said Future Movement parliamentarians had formed a committee that would meet other MPs to urge them to sign the proposal and pass it into law.

The former prime minister said he expected 120 signatories to approve the proposal, including his bloc of 21 legislators, in demanding the lifting of immunity.

Lebanon’s parliament has 128 seats, but that number has fallen to 118 after two MPs died and others resigned after the explosion.

“If this case remains as it is today, proceeding in accordance with the laws and the constitution, it will appear before three courts,” Mr Hariri said.

Investigative judge Tarek Bitar had requested earlier this month to strip members of parliament and former ministers Nohad Machnouk, Ali Hassan Khali and Ghazi Zeaiter of their immunity in the blast probe.

Mr Machnouk was close to Mr Hariri and was part of his parliament coalition.

The judge also asked to interrogate caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and former minister Yousef Fenianos, as well as top security and military officials.

The move sparked hope that high-level officials may yet be held accountable for the devastating explosion.

Earlier this week, 28 members of the Future Movement and other parliamentary blocs signed a petition that families of the victims of the blast said would impede the investigation into the explosion.

Mr Hariri denied that the petition would obstruct justice and said he and his bloc had asked for an international investigation into the causes of the blast “since day one”.

“On a personal level – I am the son of a martyr who was killed in an explosion,” he said, referring to his father, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a bomb attack on his convoy in 2005.

Updated: August 02, 2021, 9:17 AM