Judge Who Wanted to Question Iran-Backed Hezbollah Members over Lebanon Port Blast Kept on Case by Judiciary

BEIRUT, Oct 4 (Reuters) – Lebanon’s court of cassation ruled on Monday that the lead judge investigating the disastrous Beirut port blast would be kept on the case after it rejected two legal complaints filed against him by several former ministers, sources said.

The probe into the Aug. 4 2020 explosion, that killed over 200 people, was in danger of stalling for the second time this year after a complaint filed by Nohad Machnouk, a former interior minister Bitar wanted to question on suspicion of negligence and maladministration, froze the probe.

Machnouk’s claim and another similar complaint filed by former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter were rejected on Monday, the sources said.

Legal complaints against Bitar had followed a smear campaign by Lebanon’s political class against him and a warning by a senior official of the powerful heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah group that he would be removed.

Bitar would have been the second judge to be removed on such claims after his predecessor judge Fadi Sawan was removed in February through a similar legal filing.

Bitar has sought to question several senior politicians allied to Hezbollah including members of the Shi’ite Amal Movement, but has not tried to query any members of Hezbollah.

Efforts to question former and serving state officials, including the prime minister at the time of the blast, ex-ministers and senior security officials on suspicion of negligence have been repeatedly blocked.

Families of the victims of the blast, that destroyed large swathes of the capital Beirut, are furious that more than a year on no one has been held accountable.

(Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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