At least 16 officials from the Port of Beirut and customs authorities have been taken into custody in connection with the investigation into the deadly and devastating explosion on Tuesday of a warehouse containing tons of ammonium nitrate, the prosecutor said on Thursday.
It is “responsible for the board of directors of the port of Beirut and the customs administration, and for those responsible for maintenance work and (workers) who carried out work in hangar number 12“, where the tons of ammonium nitrate were stored, said military prosecutor Fadi Akiki in a statement.”Sixteen people are detained in connection with the investigation“, the statement said without specifying the date of their arrest, their identity or the charges against them. They were arrested Wednesday or Thursday, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The explosion in the port of Beirut on Tuesday left more than 130 dead and 5,000 injured, and devastated entire neighbourhoods. According to the authorities, it originated from 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored for six years in a warehouse “without precautionary measures“, by the admission of Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
Lebanese authorities say the warehouse exploded after a fire. Port authorities, customs services and some security services were all aware that hazardous chemicals were stored there but they blamed each other. In June 2019, state security launched an investigation into this cargo, after repeated complaints about foul odors emanating from the hangar. She had reported that the warehouse contained “hazardous materials that need to be moved“and indicated that the walls of the warehouse were cracked and recommended that it be repaired.
The port management, which was aware of the dangerous nature of the products, finally sent workers a few days ago to patch up the cracks in the warehouse. These works, according to security sources, were at the origin of the tragedy, according to the authorities.
In addition, an official close to the matter assured AFP that the Central Bank of Lebanon had ordered a freeze of the assets of seven officials of the port and customs, including the director of customs, Badri Daher. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.
A banking source confirmed that commercial banks had received the circular from the Central Bank, which also decided to lift banking secrecy for all accounts these seven people or even their relatives.