Lebanon’s ex-PM Diab leaves to US despite subpoena for Beirut port blast


BEIRUT — Lebanon’s former prime minister left the country for the United States on Tuesday, his advisor said, despite a subpoena from the judge investigating last year’s devastating explosion at Beirut port.

Hassan Diab was the country’s prime minister when the explosion happened on Aug. 4, 2020. He resigned after the blast that killed over 200 people and injured over 6,000, leaving the large parts of the city devastated.

Diab was caretaker prime minister until last week, when Najib Mikati successfully formed a new government, ending months of political haggling.

As caretaker prime minister, Diab was summoned by investigative judge Tarek Bitar on accusations of intentional killing and negligence. Diab declined to be interrogated as a defendant, saying he had given his testimony in the case. Diab holds that the judges investigating the case have violated Lebanese laws that require that as a senior government official he can only be summoned after the parliament approves.

A combination picture of Lebanon’s former prime minister Hassan Diab L and Tarik B Bitar the judge investigating last year’s devastating explosion at Beirut Port. On Tuesday, Bitar issued a new subpoena to include Diab’s home address after he stepped down from the premiership.

When Diab failed to show up last month for investigation, Bitar issued a subpoena and the new date for questioning was set for next Monday.

On Tuesday, Bitar issued a new subpoena to include his home address after he stepped down from the premiership.

“He has nothing new to say,” said Laila Hatoum, Diab’s advisor. “He considers that he has nothing to do with all that until the parliament decides the course of action.”

Hatoum said Diab left for a pre-planned trip to visit his children who are studying in the United States. He has not seen them since he took office, she said.

Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded on Aug. 4, 2020. The probe shows that most government officials knew of the dangerous material stored at the port.

Diab told The Associated Press in an interview last year that he was being singled out and charged while others knew more.

To date, no one has been held responsible for the explosion, which was caused by an unattended stock of ammonium nitrate left unsafely in Beirut’s port. Over 218 people were killed, and neighborhoods across the capital were devastated.

A picture taken on 9 August 2020, shows a man stands next to graffiti at the damaged area following the Aug 4 massive explosion at Beirut’s port which destroyed Lebanon’s only grain silos , killed at least 218 people , injured 6500 and left 300, 000 homeless after 2,750 Tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate Exploded . They were stored there for nearly 7 years. , reportedly for use by the Syrian regime in its barrel bombs against the civilians in Syria . The shipment was reportedly confiscated by Badri Daher a close supporter of President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil . The shipment arrived at a time when Syria was surrendering its chemical weapons to a UN backed organization for destruction . Aoun officially knew about the Ammonium Nitrate 2 weeks before the explosion but did nothing about it . He , along with his Hezbollah allies refused an international investigation but he promised a local investigation that will bring the culprits to justice in less than a week . Judge Fadi Sawan was appointed to investigate the explosion . He charged caretaker PM Hassan Diab , former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and former public works ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Youssef Finianos with negligence over the explosion . The politicians behind the charged politicians attacked the judge and accused him of politicizing the issue. The investigation was halted for months and after it was reactivated Judge Sawan issued an arrest warrant for Finianos which prompted the court of sessation to remove the Judge t (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, Beirut, Lebanon

Officials knew that the highly explosive substance had been in the port, in close proximity to residential areas, for years, and there have been widespread calls for those responsible for the disaster to be held to account.

But the inquiry has been repeatedly delayed. In February, Bitar’s predecessor was removed by a court after he charged Diab and three former ministers with “negligence and causing death to hundreds” in the explosion.

Members of different political factions have previously criticized Bitar; the Iran backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, has accused him of “politicizing” the inquiry, while a group of former prime ministers wrote a letter after the Diab was issued with the August subpoena, saying it was “a dangerous precedent and a deliberate measure that undermines the position of the prime minister”.

Most of the ammonium nitrate stock was not in the warehouse when the explosion took place , FBI investigators found out . According to observers familiar with the case the bulk of the ammonium nitrate was shipped by Hezbollah to the Syrian regime for using it in its barrel bombs to kill civilians . Hezbollah fighters helped the Syrian regime in crushing the revolution that erupted in March 2011

By Associated Press /DS