Lebanon PM, former ministers charged over Beirut blast

Lebanon PM, former ministers charged over Beirut blast

Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers have been charged with negligence that led to the deaths of hundreds and injuries to thousands in the massive August Beirut port explosion.

Fadi Sawan, the judge investigating the blast, on Thursday charged Diab, former public works ministers Ghazi Zaeiter and Youssef Fenianos and former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a senior judicial source told Al Jazeera.

Sawan is set to question Diab as a defendant in the case on Monday at the Grand Serail, the seat of government in Beirut. He has also called in the three ministers for questioning on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, also as defendants.

Sawan had previously questioned them only as “witnesses”.

The judge’s decision comes two weeks after he sent a letter to Lebanon’s Parliament asking members of Parliament to investigate ministers over the blast at a special parliamentary court for the prosecution of top officials. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri declined.

The source told Al Jazeera: “Sawan had put parliament in front of its responsibility to explore the political responsibility of ministers, but they declined to move forward. This pushed him to file these charges of negligence, which he considers within his jurisdiction.”

The decision to prosecute the outgoing prime minister and former ministers is based on verified written correspondence sent to them, warning the officials about nearly 3,000 tonnes of explosive material at Beirut’s port, the source said.

Diab’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the three former ministers’ phones were off when called by an Al Jazeera reporter.

The latest charges raise the number of people being prosecuted over the blast to 37, some 25 of whom are in detention.