Portuguese man detained over Beirut blast

·2-min read
Lebanese authorities said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser haphazardly stocked in a warehouse at Beirut's port since 2014 had caught fire, causing one of history's largest non-nuclear explosions (AFP/STR) (STR)

Spanish authorities said Thursday they had arrested and then granted conditional release to a Portuguese man wanted by Interpol over the 2020 Beirut port blast that killed over 200 people.

Jorge Moreira, 43, was arrested at Madrid airport on Wednesday after he arrived on a flight from Chile's capital Santiago, a Spanish police spokesman said.

He had arrived in Santiago earlier on a flight from Spain but was prevented from entering the country and put on a plane back to Madrid in coordination with Interpol, Chilean police said.

Moreira is wanted in Lebanon for allegedly having brought explosives into the country with links to the August 2020 explosion which devastated entire neighbourhoods of Beirut.

Authorities said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser haphazardly stocked in a port warehouse since 2014 had caught fire, causing one of history's largest non-nuclear explosions.

Spain's National Court on Thursday ordered Moreira's conditional release and banned him from leaving the country while it studies a request from Lebanon for his extradition, a court spokesman said.

He is wanted in Lebanon for the crimes of "terrorism" and "causing death through the use of explosives", the spokesman added.

The ammonium nitrate is widely understood to have arrived in Beirut in 2013 onboard the Rhosus, a Moldovan-flagged ship sailing from Georgia to Mozambique.

Moreira ordered the ammonium nitrate as an employee of Mozambican firm Fabrica de Explosivos de Mocambique (FEM), a company he worked for until 2016, according to Portuguese daily Jornal de Noticias.

In 2021 a Portuguese court rejected a request from Lebanon for Moreira's extradition because it had not received all the necessary documents on time, the newspaper added.

At the time Moreira was working as an executive at a frozen foods company in the northern Portuguese city of Braganca, it added.

At the request of a Lebanese judge, Interpol in 2021 issued red notices for the owner of the ship which transported the ammonium, its captain and Moreira.

- Blast investigation on hold -

The Interpol notices, which are not international arrest warrants, ask authorities worldwide to provisionally detain people pending possible extradition or other legal actions. Interpol issues them at the request of a member country.

The Rhosus was seized by Lebanese authorities after a company filed a lawsuit against its owner over a debt dispute.

In 2014, port authorities in Beirut unloaded the shipment and stored it in a derelict warehouse with cracked walls.

Investigations into the tragedy have been paused for months over what rights groups and relatives of the victims have denounced as political interference.

Human Rights Watch last year accused top officials in government, parliament and the country's security agencies of deadly negligence that led to the tragedy.

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