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London-based company ordered to compensate Beirut port blast victims

A British court has ordered a London-based company that delivered the ammonium nitrate that exploded in 2020 at Beirut’s port to pay compensation to some families of the hundreds of victims, Beirut’s Bar Association said Tuesday.

The verdict in the High Court of Justice on Monday came four months after the court ruled that London-registered chemical trading firm Savaro Ltd. is liable to the victims for the devastating blast.

Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers that had been improperly stored in the port for years, exploded on Aug. 4, 2020 killing nearly 220 people, injuring over 6,000 others and causing damage in the city worth billions of dollars.

BEIRUT BLAST DAMAGE MAPPED BY NASA USING SATELLITE DATA

Savaro Ltd. is suspected of having chartered the shipment of the ammonium nitrate in 2013 that ended up in Beirut. In Lebanon, documents show a handful of senior political, judicial and security officials were aware of the chemicals in the port for years, but did not take decisive action to get rid of it.

The case in Britain was put forward by the Beirut Bar Association because Savaro Ltd. is based there.

According to the prosecution office at the Beirut Bar Association, the British court ordered payment of $125,900 for each of three plaintiffs whose family members were killed in the blast because of the emotional damage that resulted from their deaths.

Beirut explosion

A drone picture shows the aftermath of an explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 5, 2020.  (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

The court also ordered the payment of more than $629,700 for an injured plaintiff as compensation for emotional and physical damage and to cover medical expenses.

The ruling in London is an unusual judicial success for the victims’ families, members of whom have advocated for an unimpeded national investigation. Some have opted to file lawsuits abroad.

The work of Judge Tarek Bitar, who has been leading the investigation into the blast in Lebanon, has been blocked since December 2021 pending a Court of Cassation ruling after three former Cabinet ministers filed legal challenges against him. The court is the highest in the land.

WHAT IS AMMONIUM NITRATE, CHEMICAL COMPOUND LINKED TO DEVASTATING BEIRUT EXPLOSION?

“After almost three years from the catastrophe, it’s the first time that there is a judicial decision regarding both liability and damages,” Camille Abousleiman, one of the lawyers involved in the British case, told The Associated Press. “This also comes at a time when the Lebanese investigation is blocked, perhaps permanently, so it gives a measure of comfort to the victims.”

“It’s a first positive step in a long process for justice and closure for the injured and the relatives of the deceased victims,” Abousleiman said.

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The Beirut Bar Association, along with four victims’ families, filed a lawsuit against Savaro Ltd. in August 2021 after U.K. authorities blocked the firm’s attempts to dissolve the company.

It remains unclear who the owner of Savaro Ltd. is. The listed owners are agents from a corporate services firm, investigative journalists from Lebanese and international outlets have reported. The High Court of Justice in June 2022 ordered the company to reveal its true owners, but the firm has not done so.

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