Former Lebanon prime minister charged with homicide over Beirut port explosion

Former ministers charged over massive blast which killed 218 people and wounded 6,000 in August 2020

Former prime minister of Lebanon Hassan Diab and two former ministers have been charged with homicide over the Beirut port explosion which killed 218 people, wounded 6,000 and left 300,000 people homeless in August 2020.

Judge Tarek Bitar, who is investigating the explosion, also summoned 15 officials, including prosecutor general Ghassan Oweidat, to appear in February to answer unspecified charges connected to the case.

According to Reuters, Mr Oweidat’s office has challenged the judge’s authority to issue charges.

William Noun, whose brother, a firefighter, died in the explosion, told Reuters the resumption of the investigation “was a beautiful shock but we want to be sure that no one stands in [Mr Bitar’s] way”.


Mr Bitar was forced to suspend his investigation for 13 months after senior figures who have been charged in relation to the disaster filed legal cases against him and accused him of political bias. Consequently, no one has so far been held accountable for the explosion.

President Michel Aoun, Mr Diab and several ministers were warned early in 2020 about the danger posed by the unsafe storage of the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in an ill-maintained port warehouse for six years.

On Monday, Mr Bitar unexpectedly resumed his investigation. He renewed unspecified charges against Lebanon’s internal security chief major general Abbas Ibrahim, state security director major general Tony Saliba and former army commander Jean Kahwaji. Mr Bitar also ordered the release of five port officials and employees.

Last week Mr Bitar met two French judges who are carrying out a separate investigation (two French citizens were among the fatalities).

Beirut has refused an international inquiry into the explosion, the largest non-nuclear detonation since the second World War.

After conducting a legal review of the position he holds under the 2001 code of criminal procedure, Mr Bitar concluded that a government-appointed judicial investigator could not be recused or removed by the judiciary as this would breach the separation of powers mandated by the constitution.

Mr Bitar, who heads Beirut’s criminal court, succeeded military judge Fadi Sawwan, who was dismissed by a court after charging powerful political figures with negligence over the explosion.

Meanwhile, Najat Saliba and Milhem Khalaf of the Forces of Change bloc of deputies continued their sit-in at the parliament building to protest the failure of legislators to elect a new president. They remained in the building last Thursday after the 11th attempt to elect a president, promising to remain until one is chosen.

Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Aoun completed his term on October 31st. The caretaker government under Najib Mikati lacks authority to take major decisions and parliament is paralysed by factionalism.

Since 2019 the value of the Lebanese pound has plunged from 1,500 to 53,000 to the dollar, inflation has reached 117 per cent, and 80 per cent of Lebanese people live in poverty.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times