BEIRUT (Reuters) – A top Lebanese court Thursday rejected lawsuits filed by a former prime minister and three former ministers seeking to sue the state over the conduct of the judge probing the deadly August 2020 Beirut blast, a senior judicial source told Reuters.
The suits, filed over the past month, had paused Judge Tarek Bitar’s investigation but he still remains unable to proceed due to a separate judicial ruling that is still pending, lawyer Nizar Saghieh of watchdog group Legal Agenda told Reuters.
The general assembly of Lebanon’s Court of Cassation rejected the suits filed by former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and former ministers Nohad Machnouk, Ghazi Zeaiter and Ali Hasan Khalil that alleged “grave mistakes,” in the probe.
All have been charged in connection with the blast but have denied any wrongdoing and have refused to be interrogated by Judge Tarek Bitar, arguing he does not have the authority to prosecute them.
Bitar does not give public statements in line with regulations for judges.
Families of Beirut blast victims who have visited Bitar say he told them he would continue to seek to interrogate top officials until he was removed from the case.
3 JUDGES RESIGN
Three Lebanese judges have resigned over interference by politicians in the work of the judiciary, including a probe into last year’s Beirut blast, a judicial source said Thursday.
In a country where political leaders determine judicial appointments, including in top courts, there is little room for the judiciary to work against Lebanon’s ruling elite.
A probe into last year’s monster port explosion has exposed the extent of such interference, with top officials mounting a complex web of court challenges to obstruct the work of lead investigator Tarek Bitar.
On Wednesday three judges, all women, handed in their resignation “to protest … political interference in the work of the judiciary and the undermining of decisions issued by judges and courts,” the judicial source said.
The head of the country’s top court has yet to approve the resignations and has called for the matter to be discussed in a meeting, the source added.
The resignations came after officials filed dozens of lawsuits against Bitar as well as other judges processing requests by lawmakers demanding his removal.
Among those who resigned this week is a judge who turned down a request by an official to remove the investigator.
She was consequently hit with a review questioning the validity of her decision.
“The constant questioning of the judiciary’s decisions is tarnishing its reputation,” the same court official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
While it is the most prominent, the Beirut blast case is not the only one to fall prey to interference by political leaders.
A probe into charges of tax evasion and illicit enrichment brought against Central Bank chief Riad Salameh has also been paused over a lawsuit filed against lead investigator Jean Tannous.