BEIRUT: Ghassan Oueidat, Lebanon’s top prosecutor, on Wednesday ordered the release of 17 detained suspects in the Beirut port blast investigation, and filed charges against the judge leading the probe.
Investigative judge Tarek Bitar had defied Lebanon’s entrenched ruling elite this week by daring to charge several powerful figures — including Oueidat — over the blast in 2020, while reviving a probe that was suspended for more than a year amid vehement political and legal pushback.
Oueidat has sued Bitar and issued him with a travel ban.
This judicial coup took place less than 48 hours after Bitar resumed the investigation into the explosion, following a 13-month halt over legal challenges raised by politicians accused in the probe.
In his move to resume investigations, Bitar relied on a legal study he personally prepared that authorizes him to continue working in the capacity because he was appointed as an investigator by a decision of the Council of Ministers.
Hezbollah and the Amal Movement called for and worked on the suspension of Bitar from the case. Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah demanded his dismissal more than 14 months ago.
Decisions to release the detainees with immediate effect were sent to the security authorities by Oueidat.
The detainees left their detention with smiles on their faces, including Badri Daher, director general of customs, who is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement.
Bitar responded via the NTV channel, saying that “any compliance by the security forces with the decision of the public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat to release the detainees would be tantamount to a coup against the law.”
Bitar added that “only the judicial investigator has the right to issue release decisions, and therefore Oueidat’s decision has no legal value.”
Judicial police informed Bitar at his home to appear before Oueidat on Thursday, in accordance with the lawsuit against him.
However, Bitar told an officer: “I am the one who wants to meet Oueidat because I sued him before he sued me, and I set him a date for a hearing next week.”
Bitar charged Oueidat on Monday, along with three other judges and four administrative officials, with “intentional murder” over the crime.
He said that his 750-page indictment included “dangerous security information.”
A judicial source told Arab News that “the Supreme Judicial Council would appoint another judicial investigator in the case. This step does not require a Cabinet decision or a decree.”
The judicial dispute has sparked anger among families of the victims of the blast. Tight security measures were taken around and inside the Palace of Justice in Beirut to prevent anyone from entering.
Most families of the victims have endorsed Bitar and called on the authorities to allow a thorough and unobstructed investigation.
Some, however, have lost hope in a domestic probe and have advocated a UN-mandated fact-finding mission.