A Lebanese lawyer has submitted a legal complaint against President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab over claims the pair knew tonnes of highly explosive chemicals were stored in Beirut’s port but failed to take action, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Majd Harb’s legal complaint comes after court documents emerged last week claiming Aoun and Diab were sent a private letter on 20 July warning that 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate was stored in the port.
In the letter, Aoun and Diab were told that the substance, which had been stored in the port since 2013, posed a security risk to Lebanon’s capital city, according to a report by Reuters.
Two weeks after the letter was sent, the material ignited in warehouse 12 of Beirut’s port and exploded, killing nearly 200 and injuring 6,500 more.
In the aftermath of the explosion, however, Diab, who was forced to resign after the blast, has not responded to the allegations that he was aware the substance was stored in close proximity to the city.
Aoun, however, admitted he was aware the dangerous chemical was stored in Beirut’s port and said he told security personnel and port authorities to take the necessary action.
It remains unclear why no preventative measures were taken, however, Aoun has denied culpability for the inaction, claiming in a television interview that, as president, he has no jurisdiction over the capital’s port.
Harb’s complaint, which was published in the state-run National News Agency (NNA), however, demands accountability from the pair, claiming, “they did not take any measures to prevent the explosion”.
The AP report termed Harb’s legal complaint “symbolic”, because documents unearthed in the aftermath of the explosion reportedly show customs, port, intelligence, military and judicial authorities, as well as Aoun and Diab, were all aware the substance was stored in the port.
The Director General of Beirut Customs, Badri Daher, who has been arrested as part of an investigation into the cause of the blast, reportedly sent letters to Lebanon’s “judge of urgent matters” in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, warning of the security risk the substance posed.
An investigation into the cause of the explosion started earlier this week, led by Lebanese judicial investigator Fadi Sawwan. International investigators, including personnel from the US’ FBI, are expected to assist the probe.