Lebanese authorities have launched an investigation into the deadly Beirut blast, with port workers detained and assets of port and customs managers frozen. A fire is believed to have ignited the stored explosives.
Lebanese authorities detained 16 Beirut port staff members on Thursday as part of an investigation into what caused the massive explosion at a warehouse that ripped through Lebanon's capital.
Military prosecutor Fadi Akiki said in a statement that 18 port and customs officials, along with warehouse maintenance workers, were called in for questioning. Two have since been released.
"Investigations are continuing to include all other suspects, in order to clarify all the facts related to this disaster," Akiki said, adding that the investigation is being carried out under the supervision of the Lebanese Army and Lebanon's Internal Security Forces Information Division.
Lebanon's central bank has also ordered an asset freeze for seven port and customs officials, including the head of Lebanon's customs authority Badri Daher and Beirut Port General Manager Hassan Koraytem.
Investigators said Tuesday's blast was triggered by a fire that ignited 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that was stored without proper safety measures in a warehouse at the port.
At least 137 people were killed and 5,000 injured. Beirut's port was destroyed, causing up to $15 billion (€12.6 billion) in damage.
On Thursday during a visit to Beirut, French President Emmanuel Macron called for an independent, internationally coordinated investigation into the explosion.
Russian ship owner questioned
At the request of Lebanon's Interpol office, Cyprus police on Thursday questioned Igor Grechushkin, the Russian businessman who owned the Rhosus, the ship that carried the explosive chemicals to Beirut in 2013.
A police spokesman said that Grechushkin, who lives on the Mediterranean Island 240 kilometres (149 miles) from Lebanon, was not detained.
The spokesman said Grechushkin was questioned about the cargo on board the Rhosus, which was sailing from Georgia to Mozambique loaded with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. Grechushkin has not issued a public statement.
After a stopping in Beirut, the Rhosus was prevented from sailing further due to technical defects, and the ammonium nitrate was offloaded to a warehouse at the port.
As investigators have placed their focus on port officials, many Lebanese have blamed the explosion squarely on the political elite, corruption and mismanagement by the authorities . On Thursday, dozens of Beirut residents vented their frustration by pelting security forces with stones and setting tires on fire.
For over a decade, officials, watchdog groups and Lebanese media have warned about widespread corruption plaguing the Port of Beirut, including allegations that bribery and hiding of merchandise from custom duties or taxes had taken place.
Source: Deutsche Welle