Lebanon's caretaker prime minister charged with 'negligence' over Beirut port explosion

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
More than 200 were killed in the explosion on August 4.
More than 200 were killed in the explosion on August 4.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Hussein Malla

A Lebanese prosecutor has charged the country's caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers for negligence in an investigation into the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut.

Diab resigned as prime minister days after the blast following intense criticism but continues in office until his replacement Saad Hariri can form a new government.

The indictments brought on Thursday, four months after the tragedy, are the first against politicians.

Fadi Sawan filed charges of carelessness and negligence that led to the explosion against Diab, former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil Finance, as well as Ghazi Zaayter and Youssef Fenianos, who had both headed the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Judge Sawan, who is in charge of the investigation, will reportedly begin questioning Diab on Monday.

Her decision states that the ministers had received several written warnings about the ammonium nitrate storage, and "did not take the necessary measures to avoid the devastating explosion and the enormous damage."

The prime minister's office responded to the charges immediately, saying that Diab had "a clear conscience".

"He is sure that his hands are clean and that he has handled the case ... in an accountable and transparent manner," it added. "This surprising targeting goes beyond the individual and attacks the [prime minister's] office."

The explosion at Beirut's port on August 4 was triggered by a fire in a warehouse, which had been storing tonnes of ammonium nitrate for years.

More than 200 people killed and 6,500 injured in the blast, which damaged large swathes of the capital.

A few hours after the explosion, Diab denounced the storage conditions of the ammonium nitrate cargo.

The shipment had arrived at the port of Beirut in November 2013 on a Moldovan-flagged ship.

The Lebanese authorities had claimed after the explosion that 25 people, including port and customs officials, had been arrested in the course of the investigation, but had not published any conclusions about who was responsible.