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Monday, 24 July, 2000, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Former Syrian ministers face charges
Salim Yasin (right) and late PM Mahmoud al-Zohbi
Mr Yasin (right) pictured with late PM Mahmoud al-Zohbi
Two former Syrian ministers have been charged with "serious irregularities" by the court dealing with economic crimes.

The charges, announced by the Syrian news agency Sana, mark the latest development in an anti-corruption drive that has already brought down the long-serving prime minister, Mahmud al-Zohbi.

He committed suicide in May after removal from office.

The accused "forced the national air carrier to sign a deal with conditions that violated all regions and laws effective in the country"

Syrian judicial source

Sana said that the two men, the former deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Salim Yassin, and the former transport minister, Mufid Abdel Karim, would be tried in connection with a 1996 order for six Airbus aircraft.

It said that Mr al-Zohbi, had he lived, would have been tried on the same charges.

Airbus deal

An arrest warrant has been issued for a third official, Munir Abu Khaddur, on the same charges.

Syria's new President Assad
Bashar al-Assad led the anti-corruption drive
Mr Zohbi, who was replaced as prime minister in March, was later expelled from the ruling Baath party and accused of corruption.

He shot himself as police came to arrest him; Mr Abdul Karim was taken into custody the same day, while Mr Abu Khaddur, who has dual Syrian-Spanish citizenship, is in Spain.

The state news agency quoted prosecutors as saying all four men had incurred "big financial losses" for Syria through the Airbus deal.

Sana said an inquiry into the order had shown that they had forced the state airline to make the order, which was worth $240m.

But the agency did not say how much money was lost or how the men were believed to have embezzled it.

The six aircraft were delivered to the Syrian airline in 1999.

Figures published in an official newspaper, Tishrin, in April estimated that government corruption was costing the Syrian treasury at least $50,000 a day.

News of the latest charges comes almost a week after Bashar al-Assad, the son of the late president, was sworn in by parliament as his father's successor.

The new president, who has been closely associated with the anti-graft campaign, formally pledged to try to modernise the economy and fight corruption.

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See also:

20 Jul 00 | Middle East
Syrians end mourning for Assad
22 May 00 | Middle East
Former Syrian PM commits suicide
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Analysis: Bashar's challenges
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Ba'ath Party: Syria's pillar of power
20 Jun 00 | Middle East
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