No more charges laid for Beirut port explosion, including against Hezbollah front man

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A Lebanese prosecutor filed charges Tuesday against current and former customs officials for the massive explosion at the port of Beirut in August, including a former customs chief who is said to have been the point of contact for the militant group Hezbollah in the installation.Prosecutor General Ghassan Khoury has indicted senior customs official Hani Haj Shehadeh and former Beirut customs chief Moussa Hazimeh, according to the national news agency. The report did not reveal the charges or provide additional details.

Hazimeh was reportedly Hezbollah’s contact man in the Beirut port when a massive amount of highly explosive fertilizer was stored there more than six years ago.

Nearly 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded on August 4, killing more than 200 people, injuring thousands and causing damage worth billions of dollars, mostly in nearby neighborhoods.

The Port of Beirut is considered one of the most corrupt institutions in the country, where ruling political factions, including Hezbollah, have divided their positions and created strongholds.

The national news agency said that on indicting Shehadeh and Hazimeh, the number of people currently charged in connection with the explosion reached 33, of whom 25 are under arrest. None of the charges were made public and the process was kept very secret.

Riad Kobaissi, investigative journalist at Al Jadeed TV, has followed corruption at the port and within the customs authorities since 2012. He said that all political factions in the country have benefited from the use of the port as patronage, and that most neglected questionable transactions. He said many people were aware of the initial warning about the danger of ammonium nitrate in storage in 2014 by a customs official. He said this includes Hazimeh, who Kobaissi described as the former Hezbollah contact man at the port.

ANI said the new cases were referred to Judge Fadi Sawwan, who was investigating the blast. He said Sawwan interviewed the two earlier as witnesses, but that they will be questioned again as suspects.

The report comes amid complaints that the investigation is proceeding too slowly. The families of the victims desperately want to know what triggered the explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.

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