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Lebanon: Beirut blast investigation frozen over bias accusation

Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk filed a complaint against the overseeing judge whose predecessor was removed on similar grounds
The site of the 2020 port blast in Beirut (Reuters)

The investigation into the August 2020 blast that annihilated much of Beirut has been frozen after a former minister wanted for questioning as a suspect questioned the neutrality of the lead investigator.

A judicial source told Reuters that a complaint was filed against Judge Tarek Bitar, who is overseeing the probe into the 4 August explosion that left more than 200 dead and injured thousands, by former interior minister and current member of parliament Nohad Machnouk.

"Now the sessions will be cancelled and Judge Bitar will stop looking at the file until the court of cassation decides either to accept the case or reject it," the source said.

The judicial probe into the explosion, one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts ever recorded, has so far made no progress, angering many Lebanese including families of the victims who are furious that no senior officials have been held to account.

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Bitar was appointed lead investigator after the removal of his predecessor in February on similar grounds.

There was no immediate comment from Bitar, who is not permitted to speak to the media.

The probe has faced political pushback from powerful parties that have alleged bias in the investigation.

The court of cassation issued a decision in February that removed the first judge, Fadi Sawan, from the case after a request from two former ministers he had charged, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter.

Judge Bitar had issued requests in July to question former prime minister Hassan Diab and other top officials charged by his predecessor with negligence over the blast.

All have denied wrongdoing.

On 16 September, he issued an arrest warrant for former public works minister Youssef Finianos after he failed to show up for questioning, the first against a top official in the case.

*Reuters contributed to this report