Lebanon prosecutor issues warrant for MP charged over Beirut blast

Public prosecutor instructed police to carry out warrant in January when current parliamentary session ends and MPs lose immunity

Former Lebanese finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil walks to attend a meeting in Baabda. Reuters
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Lebanon's public prosecutor on Tuesday instructed security forces to arrest a top politician on charges pertaining to the Beirut port blast, a senior judicial source said, setting the stage for a possible confrontation with the member of the Lebanese Parliament and his powerful ally, Hezbollah.

Tarek Bitar, the judge investigating last year's catastrophic port explosion, first issued a warrant for the arrest of Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister, on October 12 after he did not attend a scheduled interrogation.

He is the right-hand man of House Speaker Nabih Berri and one of several current and former senior politicians and security officials charged in connection with the blast that killed more than 200 people. All have refused to be interrogated by Mr Bitar, saying he lacks the authority to do so and is biased.

The arrest warrant called for Mr Khalil to be detained once parliament is out of session, which the constitution says will be the case on January 1.

The constitution bars the arrest of parliament members while the legislature is in session unless they are caught in the act of a crime or a vote is held to allow for their prosecution.

Mr Bitar had originally issued the warrant when parliament was out of session but security forces held off enacting it, leading Mr Bitar on Friday to call on them to carry it out or risk facing prosecution themselves.

On Monday, the Amal Movement, of which Mr Khalil is a senior member, said in a statement that the judiciary was being used in the case “to strike internal stability".

An October protest called for by Hezbollah and Amal against Mr Bitar two days after he issued the warrant against Mr Khalil descended into the worst street fighting in Beirut in more than a decade.

Updated: December 15, 2021, 9:00 AM