Judge investigating Beirut blast files charges against eight officials

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The judge investigating the deadly August 2020 Beirut port blast has filed charges against eight high and mid-level Lebanese officials, according to a judicial source.

The judge investigating the explosion has resumed his work after the probe was frozen for more than one year, Lebanese media reported and a judicial source said on Monday.

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The investigation into the explosion that killed 220 people and shattered Beirut has been derailed by political resistance from ruling factions and legal challenges against the lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar.

The judicial source told Reuters Bitar had resumed his work based on a legal study that challenged the basis upon which it was frozen. It was not immediately clear who had prepared the study.

The resumption of the investigation has elated the relatives of victims, a spokesperson said.

“This made us so happy,” Mariana Fadoulian, who lost her sister in the blast, told Reuters, adding that it was “the most positive news” the families of those killed had received in more than two years.

The probe was thrown into complete paralysis in early 2022 due to the retirement of judges from a court that must rule on several complaints against Bitar, submitted by officials he has sought to question, before he can continue.

The explosion, one of the most powerful non-nuclear blasts on record, was caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been unloaded at the port in 2013.

Bitar has sought to question senior politicians, including members of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, Hassan Diab - prime minister at the time of the blast - and top security official Major-General Abbas Ibrahim.

All of them, including former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, have denied wrongdoing and said Bitar does not have the power to quiz them, arguing they have immunity.

The powerful Shia group Hezbollah, several of whose allies are among those Bitar wants to question, has also opposed him.

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