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.
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.
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