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Financial prosecutor tours flood sites following controversy
Aridi says construction violations are behind the dispute, while Safadi blames political sabotage.
Aridi says construction violations are behind the dispute, while Safadi blames political sabotage.
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BEIRUT: Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim toured several sites in Beirut Tuesday that were flooded following heavy rains to ensure work is underway to clean drainage networks. Ibrahim’s tour included Rafik Hariri International Airport, Al-Ghadir river basin and the lanes leading to the airport tunnel.

Lebanon’s roads flooded last week due to heavy rains, most notably near the Lebanese University in Hadath, south Beirut, and along the airport road.

The water left students stranded at the university, and the heavy rains inundated the vital airport highway’s underpass with mud, blocking the road in both directions for almost a day.

Subsequently, caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi and the caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi traded accusations over who was responsible for carrying out maintenance works on the roads and tunnels to prepare for the upcoming rainy season.

Accordingly, Judge Ibrahim summoned the two ministers to investigate the allegations they had made against one another.

Aridi resigned Monday after giving testimony to authorities who are investigating his ministry for corruption following flooding and road closures earlier this month.

Aridi blamed Safadi for the flooding, saying the caretaker finance minister refused to approve Public Works and Transportation Ministry funding in an attempt to pressure Aridi into endorsing illegal construction.

Safadi has dismissed these claims and said they were part of a political smear campaign targeting him.

Separately, the questioning of two maintenance company officials, who are neither witnesses nor suspects in the case, will focus on whether these firms signed on or had their contracts renewed with the Public Works and Transportation Ministry in 2013 to clean out the storm drains.

In a previous conference, Aridi said Safadi had agreed on May 3 to release the funds that were approved by the Cabinet in 2012 before the government’s resignation. He added that he received an approval from the minister on May 7 but that on Sept. 2, he got another memo rejecting the projects.

The public works minister’s refusal to approve an illegal construction violation proposed by the caretaker finance minister led to the rejection, Aridi said.

He accused Safadi of illegally building a port in Barbara, east of Beirut, and also of starting an illegal construction project in Beirut’s Zaitunay Bay.

The minister showed reporters documents proving his claims.

In response, Safadi said Aridi was attacking him for political reasons in order to diminish the finance minister’s chances of becoming prime minister. He also denied any illegal building in Barbara or Zaitunay Bay saying, “These are all lies, lies, lies.”

Beirut Waterfront Development S.A.L held a news conference Tuesday to follow up on Aridi’s allegations against Safadi and distributed maps and documents to prove they had not breached laws or committed any construction violations.

They focused on the legality of an upper passage that was built in Mina al-Hosn, which, despite having been granted approval by the Higher Committee for Urban Planning and the Beirut Municipality, was not approved by the Public Works and Transportation Ministry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 18, 2013, on page 4.
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