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Lebanon prosecutor summons ministers
Ministers attend a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Ministers attend a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: Caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi and Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi have been summoned for interrogation into allegations of embezzlement of public funds, a judicial source told The Daily Star Thursday.

Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim summoned Aridi and Safadi to a hearing next week, the source said, adding that the judge would not elaborate on the exact date of the hearings.

Aridi and Safadi interlocked in a war of words Monday over the failure to perform maintenance on sewage drains across the country before winter, leaving Lebanese stranded for hours in floods.

Ibrahim asked the competent authorities earlier this week to provide him with the text of Aridi's news conferences and Safadi's television interviews when the two ministers traded accusations over the flooding of a Beirut tunnel.

The transcripts were added to the probe Ibrahim launched in the wake of last week’s downpours and the subsequent floods, particularly in a tunnel connecting the capital to the Airport.

The source said Aridi’s testimony would have to address allegations he recently made of fraud and embezzlement issues that were already there at his ministry before and during his time as minister. Aridi would also have to name the parties involved in the allegations, the source added.

The caretaker public works minister told a news conference Monday that Safadi has refused to okay the transport ministry’s funds so as to pressure Aridi to approve an illegal construction violation by the finance minister.

Safadi swiftly denied the allegations, saying the accusations were part of a “political campaign par excellence” against him in a bid to reduce his chances of becoming a prime minister.

Safadi said only some funds for the transport ministry were approved due to the limited prerogatives under a caretaker Cabinet.

The financial prosecutor also summoned officials at the two private companies including the South for Reconstruction to listen to their testimonies with regards to the flooding at the tunnel.

The interrogation with the officials, who are neither considered witnesses nor suspects in the case, will focus on whether the companies signed or renewed contracts with the Public Works Ministry in 2013 to clean the sewers as every year.

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