Le juge en charge de l’enquête portant sur l’explosion du port de Beyrouth, le 4 août 2020, s’est absenté aujourd’hui du Palais de Justice de Beyrouth en dépit d’une manifestation des familles des victimes venus le soutenir au lendemain d’une diatribe du bras-droit du président de la chambre, le député Ali Hassan Khalil, mis en examen dans le cadre de l’affaire, dénonçant la politisation du dossier.
Ce dernier avait estimé que le juge avait violé les règles constitutionnelels et juridiciques en appelant à la levée de l’immunité dont jouissent les anciens ministres des finances, comme lui, des travaux publics Ghazi Zoaiter, des transports Youssef Fénianos ou de l’intérieur Nouhad Machnouk.
Les 4 anciens ministres ont ainsi présenté un nouveau recours devant la cour de cassation en vue d’obtenir la récusation du juge Tarek Bitar, “pour soupçons légitimes” en dépit d’un rejet précédent. Par ailleurs, les pressions politiques exercées sur le juge se sont à nouveau accrus après qu’un avocat en charge de défendre Youssef Fénianos a indiqué que ce dernier pourrait convoquer Nabih Berri mais également l’ancien premier ministre Saad Hariri dont plusieurs proches sont mis en cause ou encore le secrétaire général du Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Par ailleurs, les familles des victimes se sont, quant-à-elles, félicités de la décision de la cour de cassation, appelant à la poursuite de l’enquête en cours et dénonçant également les pressions politiques subies par le juge.
Pour rappel, le précédent enquêteur, le juge Fadi Sawwan, s’était vu être retiré l’affaire par la cour de cassation, après qu’il ait tenté de convoqué les anciens ministres des finances, des transports et des travaux publics, en raison officiellement d’un conflit d’intérêt, son domicile ayant été endommagé par l’explosion. Cependant, certaines rumeurs indiquaient que celui-ci avait également fait l’objet de menaces à son encontre et à ses proches.
The explosion of the port of Beirut
As a reminder, more than 200 people are reported to have died and more than 6,500 people were injured in the explosion that devastated the port of Beirut and much of the Lebanese capital on 4 August. 300,000 people are also reported to be homeless as a result of the explosion.
The trail of an accidental explosion on 4 August 2020 of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate inside a warehouse in beirut harbour, seized in 2014 on a garbage ship, the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus, is currently favoured by the Lebanese authorities. This explosion would be equivalent to that of 600 tons of TNT or an earthquake of 3.3 on the Richter scale.
It is said to have caused a crater 110 metres long and 43 metres deep, a security source said on Sunday (August 9th), citing comments by French experts at the scene.
Speaking in the Columns of the Washington Post on 7 September, the Prosecutor of the Republic, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, revealed that in addition to the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, kerosene, gazoil, 25 tons of fireworks and detonators for use for mines were also present in the same warehouse.
The presence of these products could have maintained the fire and allowed it to reach the temperatures allowing the explosion of ammonium nitrate, some experts point out.
The damage is estimated to be between $10 billion and $15 billion.
The port of Beirut, an area where corruption was widespread
The Lebanese authorities’ refusal to set up an international investigation is linked to the fear that the scale of corruption at Lebanon’s main gate would be involved in almost all Lebanese political parties, including some who are now calling for the investigation, some media sources note, under the guise of a temporary authority to manage the port of Beirut whose appointments were made on official sectarian lines.
Saad Hariri, who has been in question almost because of his closeness to the former director of the port of Beirut Hassan Koraytem for more than 20 years, now denies any direct link with him.
On the spot, operators note that the transit of goods often gives rise to a racketeering. Thus, in order to be able to get goods out of the port of Beirut, important undersides must be frequently paid.
Others note that some shipments are not checked. Goods are also under-billed so as not to pay taxes due to a state in financial crisis.
The investigation into those responsible for the explosion
At present, 33 people are currently under investigation. Of these, 25 people are currently being held as part of the investigation into the explosion. Among them, the director of the port of Beirut, Hassan Koraytem, as well as the director of the Lebanese customs services Badri Daher, both indicted by the investigating judge Fadi Sawwan, in charge of the investigation.
In total, several security officials and the port of Beirut were arrested.
Some sources point out that the various Lebanese political parties had shared the revenues of the port of Beirut , making it difficult at present to know the responsibilities of each in this explosion.
Several political parties, both majority and opposition, would also like to conclude the investigation quickly, having been involved in various traffickings that take place to or from the port of Beirut. They would like to avoid the degree of involvement of each individual and the security violations necessary to continue their trafficking.
Also, security officials had warned the political authorities several times in recent years, the judicial authorities have not decided on the implementation of the necessary measures of transfer of the cargo.
Sources close to the case also point to the responsibility of several administrations in the port of Beirut, especially since senior officials were aware of the danger posed by the improper storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate since 2014.
Although the FBI report could not conclude on the origin of the explosion and suggests an apparently accidental lead based on information provided by the Lebanese authorities, Lebanon remains awaiting the results of parallel investigations conducted by France and Great Britain.
On 10 December, Judge Fadi Sawwan indicted outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab, former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former transport ministers Ghazi Zeiter and Youssef Finianos.
The two former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zoeitar, also close to the president of the chamber Nabih Berri, then refused to go to the judge, believing they enjoy parliamentary immunity. However, this immunity has been the subject of controversy, with the Beirut Bar ruling that it cannot be applied in the context of this case.
The latter then obtain the judge’s dismissal in February 2021, the court of cassation, seized by 2 former ministers, the former minister of finance Ali Hassan Khalil and the former minister of transport Ghazi Zoaiter, having decided that the magistrate had motivated his decision whereas his residence is located in the district of ‘Ashrafieh also damaged by the explosion. He was therefore a stakeholder in this case.
Judge Tarek Bitar was then appointed on February 19 . Its name having already been proposed last August as part of the same procedure. At the time, however, he refused to become the investigative judge in the case of the tragedy of August 4, on the pretext of a heavy workload.
Undetermined quantities removed before explosion, says Badri Daher
According to customs director Badri Daher, quoted by sources close to the investigation, an undetermined amount of ammonium nitrate was removed before the explosion. However, no information is currently available regarding the identity or parties responsible for these levies.
Security official who warned of dangerous cargo initially murdered
In addition, the family of a Lebanese customs official accuse some stakeholders of being involved in his murder. Colonel Joseph Skaff, in charge of the fight against drug trafficking and money laundering, had informed the Lebanese authorities as early as 2014 of the dangerousness of the cargo of ammonium nitrate and refused to unload it in a letter sent to several local officials on 21 February 2014
Transferred from his post a few months later, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate will be discharged from the Rhosus and stored until the explosion occurs.
As a candidate in the parliamentary elections, Joseph Skaff’s body was found with his skull smashed near his home. The official forensic report that concluded an accidental death is questioned by a counter-expertise evoking a sudden act of aggressiveness that led to his fall and thus evokes the trail of an assassination.