Lebanon detains 16 in probe of Beirut port blast

LEBANESE authorities have taken into custody 16 individuals as part of an investigation into the Beirut port warehouse explosion that shook the capital, according to state news agency NNA.

It quoted Judge Fadi Akiki, a government representative at the military court, as saying authorities had so far questioned more than 18 port and customs officials and individuals responsible for or involved in maintenance work at the warehouse housing highly explosive material that blew up.

“Sixteen people have been taken into custody as part of the investigation,” NNA quoted Akiki as saying, without naming the individuals. He said the investigation was continuing. 

Lebanon’s central bank has ordered a freeze on the accounts of the heads of Beirut port and Lebanese customs along with five others, following the Beirut port warehouse blast that rocked the capital, according to a central bank directive seen by Reuters and confirmed by the central bank.

The directive, dated Aug. 6, from the central bank special investigation commission for money laundering and terrorism fighting said the decision would be circulated to all banks and financial institutions in Lebanon, the public prosecutor in the appeals court and the head of the banking authority.

It said the freeze and lifting of banking secrecy would apply to accounts directly or indirectly linked to Beirut Port General Manager Hassan Koraytem, Lebanese Customs Director General Badri Daher and five others, including present and former port and customs officials.

A government spokesperson told Reuters the central bank directive was in accordance with a court ruling based on a petition from the committee set up to investigate the blast.

State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat ordered a travel ban on the same seven individuals, a judicial source and local media reported.

Koraytem and Badri had both told Lebanese broadcasters on Wednesday that several letters had been sent over the years to the country’s judiciary requesting the removal of highly explosive material warehoused at the port which blew up on Tuesday.

The prime minister and presidency have said that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse that blew up. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.