Judicial investigator into the Beirut port blast Judge Fadi Sawwan on Monday interrogated detained Customs chief Badri Daher for 4.5 hours before issuing an arrest warrant against him, the National News Agency said.
The interrogation session was held in the presence of Daher’s lawyers Munif Hamdan and George Khoury.
Sawwan later headed to Beirut port to inspect the blast site and assess the damages.
He will later return to his office to question Beirut Port Director General Hassan Qureitem and take the appropriate decision in light of the interrogation.
A huge stock of hazardous material abandoned in a warehouse at the port in the heart of the capital exploded on August 4, killing around 180 people, injuring over 6,000 and devastating swathes of Beirut.
The hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate had been left unsecured for several years, despite repeated warnings of the dangers they posed.
The disaster led to demands at home and abroad for an international investigation, calls that have been rebuffed by Lebanon’s political leaders, widely accused of negligence that led to the explosion.
The interrogation of Daher and Qureitem marks the beginning of Sawwan’s investigations into the explosion.
On Friday, Sawwan received a lawsuit filed by State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat against 25 people including 19 detainees. Sawwan also received the files of the preliminary investigations.
The lawsuit mentions 25 suspects, most notably Daher, Qureitem and former Customs chief Shafiq Merhi.
It also targets “anyone identified by the investigation as being a perpetrator, partner, interferer or negligent” in connection with the crimes of “negligence; dereliction; and causing the death of more than 177 people, the injury and disabling of thousands and the full destruction of Beirut’s port, houses belonging to citizens, and public and private properties.”
Following wrangling between caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm and the Supreme Council for the Judiciary, Lebanese authorities named Sawan, with a reputation for independence and integrity according to judicial sources, to lead investigations into the explosion.
A Lebanese prosecutor will also question several ministers and former ministers over the explosion, a judicial official said Wednesday.
“The interrogations will begin with former public works minister Ghazi al-Aridi,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“If a shortcoming or negligence on the part of one of the questioned ministers is found, the judiciary will have to state that it does not have jurisdiction to sue them,” the official explained.
The chief prosecutor will then have to transfer their file and connected evidence to parliament because the jurisdiction lies with a special council in charge of suing ministers and presidents.