Arrest warrant issued for former minister Youssef Fenianos over Beirut port blast

© ANWAR AMRO The judge in charge of the investigation into the Beirut port explosion has issued an arrest warrant against Yousef Femianos. AFP

The judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port explosion issued an arrest warrant for a former minister after he failed to turn up for questioning on Thursday, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.

Tarek Bitar on Monday subpoenaed former minister of public works Youssef Fenianos for questioning, and although two lawyers turned up on his behalf, a warrant for his arrest was issued in his absence.

Mr Fenianos has publicly said he would refuse to co-operate with the investigation, which he claims has been politicised. He also failed to show up for questioning when summoned in February, claiming he had not been informed according to the “principle of criminal procedures”.

An investigation published by Human Rights Watch in August found that Mr Fenianos had been aware that the ammonium nitrate was being stored in Beirut’s port, and claimed that he continued “to mischaracterise the threat posed by the ammonium nitrate”.

The warrant means that Mr Fenianos will now be unable to leave the country, The National understands. Mr Fenianos was not immediately available for comment.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon Researcher for Human Rights Watch said the arrest warrant was an important move against a culture of impunity.

“The arrest warrant that Judge Bitar issued against former public works minister Youssef Fenianos is a direct challenge to the culture of impunity prevailing among Lebanese politicians. It is a clear sign that there are consequences to their repeated undermining and obstruction of the judicial process,” she told The National.

“Fenianos’ arrest warrant does not bode well for former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who left the country just days before his scheduled interrogation as a suspect in the case.”

Sleiman Frangieh, a former MP and close ally, tweeted his support for Mr Fenianos.

مع صدور خبر مذكرة التوقيف بحق الوزير يوسف فنيانوس نؤكد وقوفنا الى جانبه مدافعا عن نفسه وبحق ضمن القوانين المرعية الإجراء.

— Sleiman Frangieh (@sleimanfrangieh) September 16, 2021

“With the news of the arrest warrant against Minister Youssef Fenianos, we confirm that we stand by him in his journey to defend himself, rightly and as per the law,” he wrote.

On Tuesday, former prime minister Hassan Diab announced that he had left Lebanon for a four-week trip to the United States, despite being scheduled to appear before Mr Bitar for questioning on Monday – his trip means he too will miss questioning by the investigation.

The former Lebanese Army commander Jean Kahwaji appeared for questioning on Monday to acrimonious protests by the families of victims of the blast. He was head of the army in 2013 when about 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which would later explode, entered the port.

Mr Diab’s departure, which he claimed was to visit his sons in the US, came barely a week after he left office as caretaker prime minister. It prompted fury among the families of those killed in the blast, who claimed he was running away from justice.

Mr Fenianos and Mr Diab were among four senior officials charged with negligence during the investigation in December by Fadi Sawan, the judge formally heading up the investigation. The other two were former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and Ghazi Zeiter, who was minister of public works and transport at the time of the blast.

The explosion, on August 4, 2020, killed more than 200 people, although more than 13 months later, nobody has been held to account.

Members of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces lay flowers in front of a memorial to the victims of the explosion in Beirut’s port last year. Portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast. A man, right, hangs a giant Lebanese flag on a building that was damaged in last year’s blast. France’s President Emmanuel Macron remotely attends a Lebanon donors’ conference one year after the Beirut port blast. Police hold flowers to mark the anniversary of Beirut’s 2020 port blast. The grim anniversary on Wednesday came amid an economic and financial meltdown and a political stalemate that has left the country without a functioning government for a full year. Police hold flowers to mark the anniversary of Beirut’s massive 2020 port blast. Police hold flowers to mark the anniversary of the Beirut port explosion. Banners reading ‘Here starts your end and our beginning’ and ‘Hostages of a murderous state’ hang on a building damaged in last August’s port blast, as Lebanon marks a year since a the cataclysmic explosion devastated Lebanon’s capital. A gavel monument symbolising justice can be seen in front of the damaged grain silos at Beirut port, as Lebanon marks a year since an explosion ravaged the country’s capital. Supporters of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement release white balloons to mark one year since the huge explosion in Beirut’s port. At least 200 people were killed, and more than 6,000 injured in the blast on August 4, 2020. Supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement release paper lanterns to mark one year since a huge explosion in Beirut’s port. A man in a wheelchair flies a Lebanese flag during a protest demanding justice for the victims of last year’s Beirut port blast. Demonstrators gather outside Beirut port on the anniversary of the blast that ravaged the city last August. Hundreds of Lebanese marched on August 4 to mark the explosion, protesting against impunity over the country’s worst peacetime disaster at a time when its economy was already in tatters. Relatives of Beirut port blast victims arrive for a remembrance ceremony at the site of the explosion on the first anniversary of the disaster. Relatives of Beirut port blast victims arrive for a remembrance ceremony at the site of the explosion on the first anniversary of the disaster. Demonstrators gather by the statue of ‘The Lebanese Emigrant’ near Beirut port on the first anniversary of the blast that ravaged the port and the city. A demonstrator marches with a sign showing one of the young victims of the 2020 Beirut blast. People carry flags and banners as they march to mark the anniversary of Beirut’s port blast. Priests pray near the remains of Beirut port on the first anniversary of the blast that ravaged the port and the city. Demonstrators in Lebanon’s capital march past a statue symbolising “Beirut rising from destruction” on their way towards the port on the first anniversary of the blast that ravaged the city. France’s President Emmanuel Macron talks to his Lebanese counterpart Michel Aoun during a remote international conference to raise aid for the country. France has pledged about €100 million ($118.3m) in emergency aid as well as 500,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses for Lebanon. Nuns pray during a mass organised at the Beirut port with the relatives of last year’s blast victims. A priest comforts the relative of a blast victim at a Mass organised in Beirut. Families and relatives of people killed in the blast carried portraits of their loved ones to the commemoration Mass in Beirut. Families and relatives of victims of the explosion at Beirut port attend a Mass held to commemorate the anniversary. Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai arrives to lead a Mass in memory of people who died in the explosion. Relatives of people who died in the 2020 Beirut blast attend a Maronite Christian Mass at the city’s port. A relative of a victim of the blast weeps as she attends the Mass. A fire engine carrying portraits of blast victims is driven during a remembrance ceremony at the port of Lebanon’s capital. Relatives of the Beirut port blast victims arrive for a remembrance ceremony at the Lebanese capital’s port.

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