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Following the decree that allowed their release from jail, Beirut Port’s employees, suspected of voluntary manslaughter in the case of the August 4 explosion, can now legally return to work. Caretaker Minister of Transportation and Public Works, Ali Hamiyeh, took the decision to allow the employees (except the ones from the first category) to resume their work. This decision, which has outraged many Lebanese, is not legally erroneous. However, according to some observers and legal experts, it is politically charged.

Arrested for almost two years for negligence and voluntary manslaughter in the aftermath of Beirut’s Port explosion, 17 employees were released on bail on January 25, following a disputed order by the Attorney General of the Republic, Ghassan Oueidate. Today, they are asking for their jobs back. On Tuesday, Mohammad el-Mawla, president of Mina, which oversees the ships’ arrivals, and judicial watchman of Warehouse No. 12, where the ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion was stored, was notified of Minister Hamiyeh’s decision.

The other employees who have been reinstated in their positions are: Michel Nahoul, an employee at the port’s General Directorate; Samer Raad, engineering director of the port’s operations; Mustapha Farshoukh, head of the goods department; and Mohammad el-Awf, the port’s security supervisor. Despite a travel ban issued against him, el-Awf, who has American citizenship, left Lebanon for the United States the day after his release.

“As long as they have not been convicted, there is no legal impediment preventing them from resuming their jobs. It is the principle of presumption of innocence. According to the law, they are now free,” says a jurist interviewed by This is Beirut on condition of anonymity. However, “those employees should have been replaced by others until a judgment is rendered in their case. They are accused in a judiciary case that should normally be investigated by Judge Tarek Bitar, who should have been the one to order or oppose their release,” indicates another source.

It should be noted that, according to the aforementioned jurist, “the salaries of these officials have not been discontinued. However, based on the principle of “no work, no pay” and on the fact that in the legal texts, there are no clauses that prevent them from resuming their job responsibilities, they are hence allowed to resume work”.

The Facts

In January, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued two circulars in which he asked the Caretaker Minister of Finance, Youssef Khalil, and the Caretaker Minister of Transportation, Ali Hamiyeh, to notify the first-category employees released by Prosecutor Oueidate to be at the disposal of the Prime Minister’s Office.

He also requested that employees from other categories remain at the disposal of their respective ministers. However, the notification procedure was not initiated.

Last April, Ali Hamiyeh turned to the Ministry of Justice’s Legislation and Consultation Commission. The latter was supposed to provide an advisory opinion regarding the request for reassignment of the Beirut port employees. This request was issued on April 25. It established that the employees (except the ones from the first category) could resume their job positions. The commission based its decision on the fact that none of the employees were notified in accordance with the request of the caretaker government and were therefore not at the disposal of their relevant minister. “In every situation, the aforementioned commission can only provide an advisory opinion, and the final decision lies in this specific case with the Caretaker Minister of Transportation and Public Works,” stated the jurist. This statement was confirmed by the Caretaker Minister of Justice, Henri Khoury.

Regarding the issue concerning the consequences of Mr. Hamiyeh’s refusal to reassign the employees to their positions, a lawyer interviewed by This is Beyrouth stated: “Such a decision could have been subjected to legal action before the State Council for abuse of power. The public service code, or more precisely, the general status of civil employees, does not allow a minister to obstruct their duties in the case of accusations.”

It appears that the widely controversial and criticized decision made by Mr. Oueidate to release the Beirut port employees was a precursor to their reassignment to their prior positions. Under normal circumstances, these individuals would have been subjected to questioning for voluntary manslaughter. However, the interrogations did not happen as the judge overseeing the case was removed and is currently facing legal action for “identity theft” by the man who made decisions on his behalf, namely the Attorney General of the Republic.