Lebanese lawyers sue British firm over Beirut blast in 2020

Lebanon’s lawyers have sued a British chemical firm linked to the devastating explosion of 2020 at Beirut’s port at the High Court in London.

The Beirut Bar Association and four others, including a survivor of the explosion and the families of two victims of the blast, filed the lawsuit against the UK-registered company, Savaro Ltd, this month.

They accused the firm of failing to properly store or dispose of a vitally considerable amount of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that ignited on August 4, killing more than 200 people, and flattened several neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital.

The lawyers are seeking compensations from the firm, although the matter will be quantified later.

According to the lawsuit, Savaro owned the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which was on board a ship heading to Mozambique in 2013. The cargo was meant to be delivered to an explosives company in the African country, but the ageing vessel foundered in Beirut’s port and the chemical material was unloaded in 2014 and put in a port warehouse on the instructions of a Lebanese court.

Richard Slade, an attorney at the eponymous legal firm that is representing Savaro, said the firm “has never traded” and did not enter into the transactions referred to in the claim.

The legal challenge is being led by Camille Abousleiman, a former Lebanese labor minister, and the law firm Dechert, where he now works.

The Financial Times cited Abousleiman on Tuesday as saying that he believed Savaro was the owner of the explosive consignment, and subsequently the firm was responsible under the Lebanese law for its proper storage, disposal, and any damage caused by it.

“The victims and the surviving family members of the victims believe that anybody who has direct or indirect responsibility for this blast should be brought to justice, both criminal and civil, wherever there is jurisdiction,” Abousleiman said, adding, “I don’t think anybody should escape justice in this particular horrendous situation.”

Ukrainian lawyer Volodymyr Hliadchenko was appointed as a new Savaro director on Friday. Hliadchenko said he had “acquired the company’s corporate ownership.”

Since its incorporation in 2006, Savaro has often filed accounts as a “dormant” firm.

“We are highly confident that we’re going to have evidence of who the beneficial owner is,” Abousleiman said last week, adding that he was seeking to include them in the claim.

“We want to bring this person to justice either in England as part of the current action or in some other way.”

According to Abousleiman, other potential defendants could be pursued.

Savaro had sought to start liquidation proceedings in January but that process has been stopped by the lawsuit.

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