Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker attempts to circumvent Judiciary in Port Blast Probe

Nabih Berri

(Beirut) 12 August 2020, on Thursday former warlord Nabih Berri (who remains Lebanon’s speaker Speaker of parliament Parliament since 1992) scheduled an extraordinary session to transfer prerogatives of investigate Judge Tarek Bitar to the Higher Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.

The Higher Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers is composed of eight judges and seven MPs. Twice in Lebanon’s history was this council activated in 1993 and 1999. Both at a time when former warlords like Berri and his AMAL Movement, Walid Jumblatt (Progressive Socialist Party), Sleiman Frangieh (Marada Movement) and others voted to pardon themselves of any war crimes committed during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. Another time was when minister of state for financial affairs Fouad Siniora (a leader Saad Hariri’s Future Movement) was controversially cleared of corruption. Siniora would go on to become Finance Minister and later Prime Minister where $11 billion USD would go unaccounted for during his term.

Judge Tarek Bitar was appointed in February 2021 to take over the investigation into the August 2020 Beirut Port Blast that damaged much of the capital, killed over 200 people and injured over 6000 people. Outgoing Judge Fadi Sawan came under political pressure to resign given he summoned MP’s and Ministers in Berri’s and Frangieh’s party for the handling of the ammonium nitrate that would eventually explode.

Bitar is also under increasing pressure as no one is off limits in the investigation. Much of the corrupt ruling class are opposing the move by President Michel Aoun to put himself at the disposal of the judiciary and testify before the courts. Such a move could pressure others to do so also.

Last week Berri was challenged by MP Gebran Bassil to hold a special session to lift immunity on all government employees and politicians on August the 4th (1 year anniversary of the explosion). The response was this lame attempt by Berri to further stall the efforts of the investigation.

The legality of the session was called into question with Bassil tweeting that It it does not conform to “the legal mechanism stipulated by Article 93 of parliament’s bylaws and Articles 20 and 22 of the penal code for trials before the Higher Council (for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers), which strips the session of its legality and renders all its measures illegal,”. Bassil is the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) that has been calling for lifting immunity for all politicians and public servants, past, present and future. The FPM even went as far as to lift financial secrecy on all the bank accounts of all its MPs challenging the rest of the ruling class to follow suit.

Lebanon is going through some tough times right now with its economic and political meltdown. The corrupt ruling class simply won’t let go of power or their corrupt ways and will stop at nothing to prevent the reformists from fixing the country.