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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Former Syrian PM commits suicide
Hafez al-Assad
President Assad: Corruption costs his government $50,000 a day
The Syrian authorities have confirmed that the longtime former prime minister, Mahmoud al-Zohbi, who died on Sunday, committed suicide.

His funeral service took place on MOnday with no official at the ceremony in Deraa province, south of Damascus.

An interior ministry spokesman said Mr Zohbi had shot himself at home after being told that the Damascus police chief had come to summon him to appear before an investigating judge.

A week ago, Mr Zohbi's assets were frozen by the government pending the outcome of a corruption trial. He had also been expelled from the ruling Syrian Baath Party.

Mahmoud al-Zohbi
Zohbi was accused of committing 'irregularities and abuses' as prime minister
Speaking of the former premier's suicide, the interior ministry spokesman said: "A shot was heard upstairs and that was a shot fired by Zohbi at himself by his own pistol on the second floor of his house where his wife and children were present."

He said Mr Zohbi was rushed to the Mowasat hospital in Damascus, where he later died.

The Baath Party leadership found "irregularities and abuses" in Mr Zohbi's government during his time as prime minister, between 1987 and March this year, when he resigned.

"His behaviour seriously harmed the image of the party and state as well as the national economy," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported earlier in May.

Anti-corruption campaign

Mr Zohbi was the most senior official to be targeted by an anti-corruption campaign led by President Assad's son and heir apparent, Bashar.

Correspondents say the onslaught has been directed only against politicians who are not essential for Bashar's survival as Syria's heir apparent.

The former Transportation Minister, Mufeed Abdul-Karim, was also arrested on Sunday as part of the campaign.

The justice ministry said he was summoned by an investigating judge for questioning "on corruption charges and dishonesty".

Party conference

A government newspaper reported earlier this month that government corruption was costing the treasury at least $50,000 a day.

The newspaper, Tishrin, said 39 cases of fraud had been uncovered by state financial controllers in the first quarter of the year, representing a loss of $4.5m over the period.

Syria is trying to tighten its administration while pursuing private investment to revive the economy.

The move against Mr Zohbi coincides with preparations for a general conference of the ruling Baath party - the first in 15 years.

Correspondents say the conference is expected to elect Bashar al-Assad to a leading party post.

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