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Lebanon Leader Charged With Negligence for Beirut Explosion


The Lebanese judge leading an investigation into the massive explosion at Beirut’s port charged the caretaker prime minister and three former ministers with negligence that resulted in the destruction of a swath of the capital and nearly 200 deaths in August.

Thursday’s indictment represents the first significant step in a probe that has so far failed to provide accountability for one of the biggest nonnuclear explosions in history. But critics say it unfairly assigns blame for a disaster many see as the culmination of years of bad governance by the entire ruling elite rather than one individual.

Judge

Fadi Sawan

is set to question Prime Minister

Hassan Diab

on Monday, according to the Lebanese state news agency NNA. Former Finance Minister

Ali Hassan Khalil

and two former ministers of Public Works,

Ghazi Zeaiter

and

Youssef Finianos,

were also charged and will be interrogated next week.

Hassan Diab resigned after the Aug. 4 explosion but has stayed on as caretaker prime minister.



Photo:

Dalati and Nohra/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The Prime Minister’s office responded saying Mr. Diab’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.

Protests forced Mr. Diab to resign in the wake of the explosion on Aug. 4, but he is still serving in a caretaker capacity because the political class has failed to agree on a new cabinet.

Former Prime Minister

Saad al-Hariri,

who resigned last year amid widespread antigovernment protests, is trying to form a new government.

The political deadlock has held up aid from the international community, led by France and the U.S., which are demanding political reform before providing assistance. Even before the explosion, Lebanon was seeking a multibillion-dollar bailout from foreign donors and the International Monetary Fund as the country’s economy unraveled.

But the political class has shown little willingness to take steps that would erode the privileges they have accrued since gaining power after the country’s 15-year civil war.

Many Lebanese blame the country’s ruling elite for years of corruption and bad governance that allowed nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate to be stored inside a warehouse at the port for more than six years.

In a series of briefings, Mr. Diab, who took office in January, said he had learned of the presence of explosive materials at the port in June, when he received a phone call from the head of state security Maj. Gen.

Tony Saliba.

Mr. Diab said he had dispatched his head of security to the port to look into the matter and was informed there were old bags of fertilizer dating back to 2013.

Over the next two weeks, the cabinet took steps to resolve the issue but then the explosion took place, according to the briefings.

Former minister

Najib Mikati

said a double standard was being applied to Mr. Diab because other officials, including President

Michel Aoun,

had also seen the documents warning of the presence of the explosive chemicals at the port but weren’t being charged. “The truth is whole and indivisible,” Mr. Mikati said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Before assuming his role as prime minister, Mr. Diab was a relatively unknown political outsider.

Two of the ministers charged alongside Mr. Diab were recently sanctioned by the U.S. for corruption and are allied with the Iran-backed militant and political group Hezbollah. The third, Mr. Zeaiter, is affiliated with the parliament speaker

Nabih Berri,

a Hezbollah ally.

Days after a massive explosion rocked the city of Beirut, WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum visits the blast site. Photo: Dion Nissenbaum for the Wall Street Journal (Originally published Aug. 9, 2020)

Write to Isabel Coles at isabel.coles@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the December 11, 2020, print edition as ‘Lebanon Leader Charged With Blast Negligence.’



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