Lebanon: Prosecutor Orders Release of Explosion Detainees

BEIRUT (HPD) — Lebanon’s attorney general on Wednesday ordered the release of all suspects detained in connection with the deadly explosion at the port in 2020, the lawyer for two prisoners and court officials said.

The decision of the prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat is a new setback for the investigation, paralyzed for years. The investigation threatens the ruling elite, plagued by corruption and inefficiency, which has plunged the country into an unprecedented economic crisis.

On Monday, Judge Tarek Bitar resumed the investigation, which had been halted for 13 months by legal challenges brought by the accused politicians, including the attorney general.

Seventeen people have been in pretrial detention since the huge explosion on August 4, 2020. Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive substance used in fertilizers, detonated in the port, killing 218, more than 6,000. wounded and the destruction of much of the capital.

The lawyer Sakher El Hachem, who defends two of the detainees, told The Associated Press that they received the confirmation in consultations with judicial officials and that his clients would be released in the next few hours.

The officials added that Oweidat, who challenged Bitar’s decision to resume the investigation, will file charges against him. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Oweidat did not immediately respond to an HPD request for comment.

Bitar, the second judge leading the investigation, has accused a dozen high-ranking political, police and port officials.

On Monday, Bitar ordered the release of five of the 17 detainees and charged eight officials, including Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, both from military intelligence, as well as Oweidat.

The judge summoned at least 14 politicians and judicial, security and customs officials to answer questions during February. Since the start of the investigation, several senior officials have refused to appear for questioning.

Bitar took over the investigation following the removal in February 2021 of Judge Fadi Sawwan, accused of bias by two cabinet ministers. Bitar’s removal could mean the end of the process.

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