Lebanon’s appeals court on Monday dismissed the lawsuits filed against the principal investigator of the Beirut port blast, which allows him to resume his work, the country’s national news agency said.
Monday’s decision Three former cabinet ministers, who are also defendants in the investigation, accused the judge of bias and filed a lawsuit demanding his sacking.
The challenger automatically suspended the investigation until a decision was reached. The appeals court rejected the request to remove Judge Tarek Bitter, saying it was not within its jurisdiction to do so. It fined each of the three former ministers 800,000 Lebanese pounds ($47 at the black-market rate, and about $530 at the official rate).
The trial was part of a growing campaign by the Lebanese political class against the investigation into the devastating port explosion of August 4, 2020. The explosion heavily destroyed parts of Beirut, killing more than 200 people and injuring over 6,000.
The ruling political class, accused by rights groups and the public of knowing about the explosive material stored at the port and doing little to protect it, has closed ranks against Bitter and his predecessor. Both want to interrogate senior political and security officials, who are accused of negligence, which led to the blast.
Bitar took over in February after Judge Fadi Sawan was also removed from his post following similar legal challenges by senior officials.
Various political leaders have accused Bitter of violating the constitution by politicizing the investigation, ignoring the exemptions given to lawmakers and government officials, and going against some officials.
The suspension of the investigation and repeated attempts to obstruct it had angered the families of the victims, who called the Betar investigation the last hope in the Lebanese judiciary. He says that the investigation has been affected due to repeated political interference and failure to bring the officials to justice.
Bitter still faces at least one other legal challenge from a fourth defendant, also a former minister, who has raised “legitimate suspicions” against the principal investigator.
The top court of the country should decide in this matter. Only the apex court, called the Court of Cassation, could then stop the investigation.