President Michel Aoun refused to sign decrees dismissing three officials charged in a probe into the August 4 Beirut port blast without a formal cabinet vote, his office said Monday.
The director of land and maritime transport, Abdel Hafiz Kaissi, the port’s director-general Hassan Koraytem and customs chief Badri Daher, who is close to the president, are already in custody over the blast that killed more than 190 people and wounded at least 6,500 others.
But the president will not give his signature to a decree dismissing them without an official decision from cabinet supported by the majority of ministers, his office said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Former justice minister Ibrahim Najjar told AFP that the president’s decision “will be very badly perceived by the public and will appear as a rebuff” that is designed to protect the suspects.
The investigation has so far found that the blame rests mostly on Daher regarding a shipment of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that authorities say caught fire and led to the port explosion, a judicial source said.
Daher was aware that the chemical substance was stored at a port warehouse for years and is to blame for the delay in its disposal, according to investigations, the source said.
The investigation also found that Daher was aware that some of the fertilizer had been extracted form the port warehouse before the explosion, the source said, without specifying the amounts removed or the party responsible for taking it.
A dismissal decree signed by the president, the premier and relevant ministers is usually sufficient for an official to be removed from their post, a judicial source told AFP.
Outgoing premier Hassan Diab, caretaker finance minister Ghazi Wazni and caretaker public works minister Michael Najjar have already approved the decrees, the same source added.
It is the second time that Aoun has refused to sign a decree dismissing Daher since the probe began in the wake of the explosion.
Two months after the port explosion ripped through Beirut, the investigation has yet to make public any of its findings.
The blast probe so far yielded the arrest of at least 25 people, Daher and Koraytem being the most high-profile among them.
Although no official in government or parliament is currently in custody, many have been called in to give their testimony, including Diab himself.