BEIRUT: Lebanon’s financial prosecutor charged Thursday a local company headed by Future MP Ghazi Youssef with negligence and sabotage after severe highway flooding in Beirut left hundreds stranded earlier this month.
Judge Ali Ibrahim charged Middle East Airports Services after the company allegedly failed to carry out storm drain maintenance in the tunnel connecting Beirut to the airport.
The prosecutor had already heard testimony from company officials as well as the private contracting company, South for Reconstruction, regarding the road flooding.
The questioning had focused on whether the firms ignored or had renewed their contracts with the Public Works and Transportation Ministry in 2013 to clean out the drains.
Youssef, the CEO of MEAS, told The Daily Star the company’s responsibilities focused solely on electromechanical work in the Beirut tunnel and that the flooding was not the company’s fault. “[The flooding] came from God,” he said.
Caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi also gave his testimony Thursday over the corruption case that emerged following the flooding and road closures.
The testimony, backed by documents, was made before Ibrahim and lasted for over an hour.
Both Safadi and caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi were summoned for interrogation into allegations of public fund embezzlement after the two ministers traded blame in the media over the flooding.
“We discussed the issues raised by Aridi during his news conference, and I presented all the documents I have,” Safadi said after giving his testimony.
“I answered all the questions,” he added, implying that he would not be summoned for questioning a second time over the case.
Earlier this week, Aridi announced he would no longer be fulfilling his ministerial duties, effectively quitting the already-resigned Cabinet.
He blamed Safadi for the damage caused by the flooding, saying the caretaker finance minister refused to approve funding for the Public Works and Transportation Ministry to perform storm drain maintenance in an attempt to pressure Aridi into endorsing illegal construction of a port in Barbara, north of Beirut, and also of starting an illegal construction project in Beirut’s Zaitunay Bay.
He also said the ministry’s funding shortage hampered the implementation of necessary measures to prepare Lebanon for the winter season, such as clearing out the storm drain network.
Safadi denied such allegations, maintaining that they were part of a political campaign against him in a bid to reduce his chances of becoming a prime minister.
He said some funds for the Public Works and Transportation Ministry had been approved due to the limited prerogatives of the caretaker Cabinet.
Ibrahim had asked the relevant authorities to provide him with the transcripts of Aridi’s news conferences and Safadi’s television interviews, in which the two traded accusations, so that they could be added to the probe.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt publicly chastized Aridi Tuesday for resigning his post without consulting the party.
The Druze leader said in a TV interview that Aridi belongs to his party and that he had no prior knowledge of the announcement. He said the PSP would issue a statement after “calmly” considering the issue.
“Aridi belongs to a party and cannot act on his whims,” Jumblatt said.
MP Mohammad Qabbani, chair of Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee, accused Aridi of failing to perform his ministerial duties while also criticizing the Lebanese government and calling it “the most failed and corrupted government in Lebanese history.”
Qabbani said that instead of removing violations committed on seafront properties, Aridi gave himself a license to establish a port at the corniche in Ain al-Mreisseh.
“The public works minister accused the finance minister of seafront property violations in the areas of Barbara and Zaitunay Bay in Beirut and the truth was lost, and the poor Lebanese citizens are the victims,” he said.
Qabbani also noted the traffic problems plaguing the Lebanese, adding that no policy for land transport had been set and a plan for public transport had not been approved.
“There is no public transport or railway or subway or bus, and the Lebanese are still dependent on their personal cars which create deadly traffic,” he said.
He also accused Aridi of approving contracts to pave roads worth millions of dollars that are substandard.