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Lebanon: Aoun blocks dismissal of arrested blast suspect officials

October 6, 2020 at 12:56 pm

Lebanese President, Michel Aoun in Beirut, Lebanon on 20 September 2020 [Lebanese Presidency/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has refused to sign decrees dismissing senior officials who have been arrested in a probe into the 4 August Beirut blast without a cabinet vote, his office said yesterday, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports.

The proposed dismissals include the Director of Land and Maritime Transport Abdel Hafiz Kaissi, the port’s Director-General Hassan Qureitem, and the Director-General of Beirut customs Badri Daher, who is known for being close to the president.

Aoun has demanded a formal cabinet vote, in which the majority of ministers would need to support the decision to dismiss the trio, before signing the decrees, according to a statement tweeted by his office yesterday.

This is the second time Aoun has refused to sign a decree ordering Daher’s dismissal since an investigation into the cause of the blast was opened days after the explosion occured.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who, along with his cabinet, resigned the week after the massive explosion, as well as caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni and caretaker Public Works Minister Nichael Najjar, however, have already approved the decrees.

The three, who were put under house arrest in the days after the blast, have been indicted over suspected negligence and corruption that allowed 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, stored improperly in Beirut’s port for more than six years, to ignite and explode.

READ: Protesters storm Beirut bank, demand return of savings

The resulting blast, which was felt as far away as Cyprus, claimed the lives of nearly 200, injured 6,500 more and left more than 300,000 of Beirut’s residents homeless.

According to a judicial source cited by AFP, the blast probe has so far placed the majority of the blame on Daher because the customs chief was aware the highly explosive substance had been stored unsafely in the port for years but had failed to order its disposal.

Lebanon will rise up from its ashes - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Lebanon will rise up from its ashes – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Daher, AFP reported, was also aware some of the ammonium nitrate had been siphoned from the store before the explosion took place but had still failed to take action.

More than 30 officials and individuals have been arrested as part of the investigation into the Beirut blast.

Most recently, investigating judge Fadi Sawwan issued arrest warrants, in absentia, for the owner and captain of the MS Rhosus, which is widely understood to have transported the ammonium nitrate to Beirut’s port in 2013.

Sawwan also requested Interpol issue international arrest warrants for the pair, since neither reside in Lebanon.

READ: Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch saddened by leaders’ neglect of people