Lebanon’s Prime Minister Charged in Connection With Beirut Blast

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The judge leading the inquiry into the deadly explosion at the port of Beirut has charged four high profile Lebanese politicians with negligence in connection with the blast, including the acting prime minister. They join a growing list of more than two dozen Lebanese officials accused of failing in their duties in the months and years leading up to the disaster.

The devastating explosion on August 4 was caused by a cache of 2,750 tonnes of explosives-grade ammonium nitrate, which had arrived in Beirut in 2013 aboard the freighter Rhosus. When the owner abandoned the crew and the ship over unpaid port fees, Lebanese officials offloaded the cargo and left it in a minimally-guarded warehouse, adjacent to a cargo of fireworks. Six years later, it detonated, killing 204 people and destroying a large segment of Beirut’s waterfront. The blast ranked among the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.

The newly accused include former Prime Minister and current Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab; former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil; former public works minister Ghazi Zeaiter; and a second former public works minister, Youssef Finianos. They have been charged of criminal neglect resulting in “the death and harm of hundreds of people,” according to state-owned news outlet National News Agency. 

Diab’s caretaker administration (largely comprised of the same individuals as the prior administration) has admitted that it was informed of the risks posed by a cache of explosive-grade ammonium nitrate at the port before the blast occurred. Reuters has reported that the prime minister knew of security lapses at the site and the need to conduct repairs at the storage warehouse holding the cargo – repairs that likely sparked the explosion. 

“The Prime Minister’s conscience is 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,” Diab’s office said in a statement Thursday. “Hassan Diab will not allow the premiership to be targeted by any party.”

The lead prosecutor, Judge Fadi Sawan, plans to question Prime Minister Diab next week – the first time that this has occurred in a criminal investigation in Lebanon. Diab’s office has not yet signaled whether it intends to cooperate, but the charges have the support of Lebanese president Michel Aoun, according to The Guardian. 

The three former prime ministers who were in office between the time of the cargo’s arrival in 2013 and the start of Diab’s administration in 2019 have not been charged.

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