Photo: NNA

Beirut blast probe halted after Machnouk requests replacement for Bitar

The Beirut Blast probe has officially been halted after Judge Tarek Bitar was notified of a case by MP and suspect Nohad Machnouk to replace him.

The investigation will be paused until the Court of Cassation comes to a decision, which can take months as was seen with previous Beirut blast lead investigator Judge Fadi Sawwan.

Judge Sawwan was removed two months after Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, two ministers he charged, requested his removal over “legitimate suspicion” about his neutrality.

The ministers had partly blamed damage sustained to Sawwan’s house in the blast, which devastated swathes of the city, as a reason for his removal.

Machnouk similarly raised questions about Bitar’s neutrality, filing a report days after ex-minister and suspect Youssef Fenianos did the same.

Bitar had charged them both and other senior officials with criminal negligence that led to the death of over 200 individuals. He also requested Parliament to remove the immunity of Machnouk and three other MPs so that they may be interrogated and charged.

The judge was set to question multiple high-ranking officials this week from across different political parties and public institutions, including the army.

In the past months, officials have obstructed justice by failing to show up for questioning. Fenianos missed an interrogation session scheduled with Bitar, who then filed an arrest warrant in his name.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Hassan Diab left for the US days before he was scheduled to appear for questioning—skipping out on his interrogation for the second time.