Lebanese court dismisses judicial investigator

A Lebanese court last week dismissed Judge Fadi Sawan, who had led the investigation into last August’s explosion in the port of Beirut, one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history

In December 2020 he had charged three ex-ministers and the outgoing prime minister with negligence.

Families of the victims gathered at Beirut’s justice palace on Thursday night to protest against Sawan’s removal from the investigation.

The top politicians charged by Sawan had refused to be questioned as suspects. They accused him of overstepping his powers.

The court of cassation decided to take Sawan off the case after a request from two of the former ministers he charged, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter.

The decision, seen by Reuters, cited “legitimate suspicion” over Sawan’s neutrality, partly because his house was damaged in the blast.

The investigation has yet to yield any results.

Sawan’s charges were the first filed against top politicians over the blast. Lawyers said he showed courage in a country where few in authority have ever been held accountable. He faced criticism from Shi’ite Hezbollah movement and Sunni former premier Saad al-Hariri, rivals who have shared power under Lebanon’s sectarian political system.

Outgoing premier Hassan Diab, who quit over public fury at the blast, has said his conscience was clear. Khalil said he had no role in the explosion. The finance ministry, which he ran from 2014 to 2020, oversees customs.

Zeaiter, who called the charges “a blatant violation”, ran the public works ministry in 2014, soon after a ship carrying the chemicals arrived at the port.

Both Khalil and Zeaiter are representatives of the Amal party of influential Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally.

The third former minister, Youssef Finianos, was due to be questioned last Thursday February 18th. He too did not turn up.

Finianos and Khalil were hit with US sanctions last year for their alleged links to Hezbollah, which the US administration says is a terrorist organization.