“JDo not hesitate, lest you be judged. Lebanon’s top prosecutor appears to have taken the commandments of the Bible to heart. For years he has stalled an investigation into the country’s financial crisis, one of the worst in modern history. The investigation into the catastrophic explosion at the port of Beirut has sparked a legal battle that some fear could turn violent.
Judge Tarek Bitar, who oversees the port investigation, has been unable to do his job for more than a year.officials and CongressmanHe has filed dozens of lawsuits for trial, arguing he has no right to do so. Some of their arguments are frivolous — but the court that was supposed to hear them didn’t have enough quorum to sit.
Pending lawsuits stalled the investigation until Jan. 23, when Mr Bitar unexpectedly resumed it and issued new subpoenas to top officials, including chief prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat. Mr. Oueidat accused him of exceeding his authority and subsequently released all detainees held in connection with the bombing, imposed a travel ban on Mr. Bitar and accused him of miscarriage of justice (the case will also be stayed without a quorum).
It’s a farce, but it’s not funny. The explosion, caused by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate improperly stored at the port, killed more than 200 people and destroyed much of the city center. There were many accusations: Dozens of Lebanese officials knew the chemicals posed a danger but failed to remove them. Families of the victims continue to stage regular justice protests, but few Lebanese think they will see justice.
Two Shia parties, Hezbollah and Amal, have been Mr Bitar’s staunchest opponents. They’ve threatened him in the past and accused him of a politically motivated witch hunt; more likely, they have something to hide.
Both have many armed supporters. So did Samir Jaiya, the leader of a right-wing Christian party that supports Mr Bitar. There are fears that anger over the port investigation could lead to violence. In October 2021, a protest against judges initiated by Hezbollah and Amal turned into a shootout, the worst incident of its kind in Beirut in more than a decade.
The currency collapsed as the judges jousted. Once pegged to $1,500, the Lebanese pound has lost 97% of its value. It fell below 50,000 in the gray market in mid-January and then 60,000 days later. Inflation averages 171% in 2022, up from 155% a year ago. The pound fluctuates wildly, with prices for bread, fuel and medicine adjusted daily. Many businesses no longer accept credit cards, so shoppers have to carry plenty of cash with them.
Lebanon, EU reach interim deal worth $3 billion International Monetary Fund April, but not yet finalized. The fund has long pushed for Lebanon to unify its exchange rate and acknowledge the scale of losses in its financial sector. On February 1, central bank governor Riad Salameh finally devalued the currency. The bank will now use an interest rate of 15,000 on its balance sheet, an arbitrary number which he appears to have reached simply by adding a zero to the old figure.The change is unlikely to get much praise International Monetary Fund.
Mr Salameh may have other ideas: He is under investigation in no fewer than six European countries. In January, a team of European investigators arrived in Beirut to examine his finances. They suspect he and his brother Raja embezzled central bank money and used some of the profits to buy properties in Europe. (The brothers have not been charged and have denied any wrongdoing.)
However, he continues to run the central bank, as he has since 1993. His latest term is due to end in July. Replacing him would require an agreement among factional Lebanese politicians who cannot agree on too many issues.
President Michel Aoun stepped down on October 30 at the end of his six-year term. Parliament met 11 times to pick a replacement; no one produced a winner. These are also ridiculous.many CongressmanWe voted blank. Some chose historical figures such as Nelson Mandela and Salvador Allende. Given the state of governance in Lebanon, the dead president is probably no worse than the others. ■