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Families of Beirut Port Blast Victims Seek Compensation from MPs Close to Berri

Families of Beirut Port Blast Victims Seek Compensation from MPs Close to Berri

Thursday, 30 June, 2022 - 05:30
This photo shows a general view of the scene of the explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)

The legal representatives of the families of the Beirut port explosion victims have resorted to a civil court to demand financial compensation from two MPs close to parliament Speaker Nabih Berri for their involvement in the 2020 disaster.

The families turned to Judge Zalfa al-Hassan to demand that MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zoaiter pay hefty compensations, accusing them of “reckless abuse of justice.”

They urged the judge to determine their place of residence so that they can be informed of their scheduled dates of investigation and to force them to pay compensation.

A judicial source at the civil court said the case has taken its course “in shape” but in practice, it acknowledged to Asharq Al-Awsat difficulty in “informing politicians of their hearing dates.”

An employee tasked with delivering the judge’s orders faced difficulty in reaching the houses of the MPs due to the security protection they enjoy.

Should the MPs fail to be reached, then their summons would be released in the media

Courts often resort to such moves when suspects fail to comply with summons and they would then be viewed as fugitives.

However, failure to summon politicians, whose homes are generally known to the public, marks a precedent.

The source explained that the problem doesn’t lie with the judiciary, but in the legal texts that bind the judges and force them to commit to them to the letter. This has led to delays in the investigation in the blast.

The solution lies in amending some legal texts at the criminal and civil courts so that in the end cases can either be accepted or rejected, instead of he added.

Many in Lebanon blame the port disaster, which killed more than 215 people, on safety failings by senior political and security officials. Accountability has proven elusive.

Khalil and Zoaiter were charged in December 2020 but deny any wrongdoing and have declined to attend interrogation hearings, citing immunity afforded to them by their parliamentary seats.

An arrest warrant was issued for Khalil but was not implemented by security forces, who cited parliamentary immunity.

Lawsuits filed by suspects including the two MPS against the judge investigating the blast have stalled the probe for months.

Lawyer Shoukry al-Haddad told Asharq Al-Awsat that Judge al-Hassan is investigating where Khalil and Zoaiter live.

The representatives of the families have asked the court to resort to extraordinary measures to deliver the summons, including publishing it in the media.

“How is it possible that the judiciary cannot reach two MPs, who were recently reelected by the people and elected as members of the administration and justice committee, and whose movement is known to the public?” Haddad wondered.

The lawsuits against the lawmakers demand that they pay compensation of around 3.5 million dollars for damages incurred from their obstruction of justice.

The families started with Khalil and Zoaiter because they have been the most adamant about eluding summons and have resorted to their legal teams to avoid court orders.

More lawsuits will be filed against other lawmakers who have abused their power to obstruct justice, said Haddad.

“It is unfortunate that some politicians have set up models of reckless behavior, which has now become the norm, to avoid accountability,” he lamented.

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