BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers have been charged with negligence over the Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people and devastated vast areas of the Lebanese capital.
Investigating judge Fadi Sawan called Diab in for questioning “as a defendant” next week along with former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and former public works ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Youssef Finianos.
Officials have said that a cargo of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical, was stored unsafely for years at Beirut’s port.
The investiagting judge set aside three days from next Monday to interrogate the defendants.
All four were charged with carelessness and negligence leading to death over the Aug. 4 explosion at the port.
Sawan will question the caretaker prime minister at the government headquarters, while the three former ministers will be interrogated at his office at the Palais de Justice in Beirut.
Responding to the judicial announcement, Diab said that his conscience is clear, and he is confident that his handling of the case has been both responsible and transparent.
Diab, who resigned in the wake of the August blast after taking office in early 2020, said that he “will not allow the prime minister’s position to be targeted by any party.”
A judicial source told Arab News that the charge against Diab and the ministers is based on signed correspondence and letters confirming their knowledge of the risk posed by substances stored at the port.
“The number of cases filed by those affected (by the port blast) has reached 1,000. These include families of the victims and those whose homes, shops, and cars have been damaged,” the source said.
The judge’s decision to prosecute the caretaker prime minister and three former ministers follows growing public dismay at the length of the investigation and the fact that no senior officials have been charged.
According to the Supreme Judicial Council, Sawan informed the parliament that “there are serious suspicions relating to some government officials,” and highlighted that “one of the heads of the security services” was among those interrogated.
The council said that two French judges investigating the deaths of French citizens in the port explosion believe the results of specialized tests taken at the blast site will not be available until February or March.
Family and friends of Land and Maritime Transport director-general Abdul Hafeez Al-Qaisi, who was arrested in connection with the explosion, staged a sit-in on Thursday outside the Palais de Justice in Beirut to demand his release.
Protesters said that Al-Qaisi “carried out his administrative duty to the fullest within the limits of his legal powers and the regulations in force, and repeatedly warned in official correspondence that this substance was dangerous.”