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Lebanon PM Diab, ex-ministers indicted over Beirut port explosion

This file handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra on November 10, 2020, shows Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab speaking to reporters at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut. (Via AFP)

A Lebanese investigating judge has charged outgoing premier Hassan Diab and three ex-ministers with negligence over the devastating August blast that killed more than 200 people.

A judicial source said on Thursday that the four were charged with "negligence and causing death to hundreds and injuries to thousands more".

The other senior officials charged are former finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil and former ministers of public works and transportation Yusef Fenianos and Ghazi Zaiter. 

They are the first politicians to be indicted over the catastrophic explosion that disfigured he heart of the capital Beirut and stoked a wave of public anger.

Following the explosion, it emerged that top security officials and politicians had known for years about hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored haphazardly at the Beirut port but had failed to take precautionary measures.

The indictment decision by judge Fadi Sawan came after an investigation confirmed the suspects had received "several written notices warning them against postponing the disposal of ammonium nitrate fertilizer," the source said.

"They also did not take the necessary measures to avoid the devastating explosion and its enormous damage," added the source.

The judge will begin questioning the suspects from Monday. Diab, who had testified before Sawan in September, resigned in the wake of the explosion.

Reacting to the development, Diab's office said in a statement Thursday that the outgoing premier's conscience was clear.

 "He is confident that his hands are clean and that he has handled the Beirut Port blast file in a responsible and transparent manner," it said in a statement.

"This surprising targeting goes beyond the person to the position per se, and Hassan Diab will not allow the Premiership to be targeted by any party."

 In a letter to parliament late last month, Sawan had asked lawmakers to probe all current and former ministers of finance, justice and public works dating back to September 2013, when a cargo ship loaded with about 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate arrived at the Beirut port.

The highly explosive chemicals were left at the port’s Hangar 12 for nearly seven years until they exploded on August 4, destroying large parts of the city, injuring more than 6,500 people, in addition to those killed, and rendering thousands homeless.

Lebanon’s caretaker justice minister had dismissed earlier calls for an international investigation into the explosion, saying the country’s judiciary could handle the probe itself. Marie-Claude Najem said on August 12 that the explosion in Beirut was a "chance" for the judiciary to “prove they can do their jobs and win back the confidence of the people.”

Najem then said public pressure and the international coverage of the explosion would also likely push matters in the right direction.

The investigation has so far triggered the arrest of more than two dozen people, including top port and customs officials.

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