Sep 16, 2021 18:44 UTC
  •  Lebanon judge issues arrest warrant for former minister over Beirut blast

The judge investigating last year's devastating Beirut port blast has issued an arrest warrant for a former minister after he failed to show up for questioning, a judicial source says.

"Judge Tareq Bitar issued an arrest warrant in absentia for former public works and transportation minister Youssef Fenianos," the source was quoted as saying on Thursday.

The whereabouts of Fenianos, 57, who headed the ministry from 2016 to early 2020, are unknown.

 Bitar, who is now leading the inquiry into the huge explosion, had also issued requests in July to question former prime minister Hassan Diab and other top officials.

The lead investigator had previously summoned at least four former ministers, three of whom are lawmakers. The accused officials include Diab, Finianos and Ghazi Zeiter, also a former public works minister, ex-interior minister Nouhad Machnouk, as well as general security chief Major-General Abbas Ibrahim.

The parliament has so far rejected Bitar’s requests to lift the immunity of several high-ranking lawmakers and security chiefs so they can be questioned on the suspicion of criminal negligence, as well as homicide with probable intent.

Political parties across the spectrum have accused Bitar of "politicizing" the probe.

A court threw out a first judge put in charge of the investigation after he charged Diab and former ministers with "negligence and causing death to hundreds" after all had refused to appear before him.

 The August 2020 explosion killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and flattened several neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital.

Rights groups and families of victims accuse Lebanese officials of obstructing the probe into the explosion, which has so far failed to hold high-level officials to account or reveal the exact causes of the disaster.

On Thursday, families of the victims demonstrated outside Beirut's Palace of Justice and blocked a nearby road, angry at the lack of progress in the investigation.

The explosion has left Lebanon’s economy, which is already reeling from multiple crises, including the breakdown of its banking system, spiraling inflation and the coronavirus pandemic, in tatters.