BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Lebanese judge investigating the massive explosion in the port of Beirut has charged the acting prime minister, Hassan Diab, and three former ministers with negligence in the blast that killed at least 200 people, two people briefed on the investigation said Thursday.
The investigating judge, Fadi Sawan, declared the four men suspects and plans to question them next week, a significant escalation in the state’s investigation that targets current and former officials who many feared were too powerful to be held accountable.
Mr. Diab denied the allegations in a statement on Thursday, saying that “his hands are clean,” and suggesting that the judge did not have the authority to charge a prime minister. A separate statement from Mr. Diab’s media office accused the judge of violating the Constitution by circumventing the Parliament in his latest actions.
Under Lebanon’s judicial system, the special judge investigating the blast first declares suspects in the case, but only officially announces indictments after he has finished his entire investigation, a step that then kicks off trials. The latest charges bring to 37 the number of suspects declared by the judge in connection with the blast.
The explosion was the largest in Lebanon’s history, destroying a swath of the capital. It was caused by the combustion of 2,750 tons of hazardous chemicals that had been stored in unsafe conditions in the port for years.
Angry citizens consider the blast emblematic of the mismanagement and corruption that have long hobbled the country.
The three former ministers who have now been charged are a former finance minister, Ali Hassan Khalil; and two former ministers of transportation and public works, Ghazi Zaiter and Youssef Finianos, according to the two people with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.