London court orders UK-registered firm to pay nearly $1m to Beirut blast victims

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A London court has ordered a British-registered company to pay more than 800,000 pounds ($1 million) in damages to victims of the 2020 blast at Beirut’s port, a lawyers group in Lebanon said on Monday, in the first such verdict over the explosion.

More than 220 people were killed in the Aug. 4, 2020, blast when a huge shipment of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that had been sold by British-registered firm Savaro Ltd. exploded.

On Jan. 31, the High Court in London found Savaro Ltd. liable for death, personal injury and property damage in a case brought by the Beirut Bar Association on behalf of blast victims.

On Monday, the court ordered Savaro to pay 100,000 pounds plus interest each to three relatives of deceased victims, and slightly over 500,000 pounds to a wounded woman, according to a statement by the Association.

Reuters was unable to find contact details for Savaro or for its listed director.

“It’s the first time that any court anywhere renders decisions as to liability and damages in the Beirut port explosion after approximately three years,” said Camille Abou Sleiman, a lawyer from legal firm Dechert who was overseeing the case for victims and their families for free.

“It’s the first ray of hope in the long march to justice and closure for the victims,” Abou Sleiman told Reuters.

But the question of who exactly will pay remains unclear. The woman listed as Savaro’s owner and sole director at Britain’s Companies House, Marina Psyllou, told Reuters in 2021 that she was acting on behalf of another beneficial owner whose identity she declined to disclose.

Psyllou submitted a request in 2021 to Companies House to wind up Savaro. The Beirut Bar Association asked British authorities to halt that voluntary liquidation.

Lebanon’s own probe into the blast has sputtered out. Earlier this year, investigating judge Tarek Bitar was charged with usurping powers after he filed his own charges against top security and political officials over the explosion.

“Everything that is moving forward is outside of the country,” said Paul Naggear, whose daughter Alexandra was killed by the blast and who was one of the claimants.

“It shows you how much they’ve obstructed things in Lebanon. It was really good to hear this news, because it’s progress.”

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