Syria's interior minister, who was questioned over the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, committed suicide in his Damascus office Wednesday, the government announced.
"The cabinet announces the suicide of Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan in his office at the beginning of the afternoon," according to a statement published by the state news agency SANA.
"The relevant authorities are investigating," the agency added, without giving the cause of death.
Kanaan, who served for two decades as Syria's powerful military intelligence chief, spoke to Voice of Lebanon radio earlier Wednesday and said it would be his "final declaration".
The suicide comes after a UN team investigating the assassination in Beirut of Hariri interviewed Kanaan and a number of other top Syrian figures in connection with the case last month.
The death of Kanaan, 63, comes just two weeks before the UN commission of inquiry is due to release a report on its findings.
In the radio interview, Kanaan defended the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, saying they had "done their utmost to preserve the unity of Lebanon" during their 29-year deployment.
The deployment came to an end in April amid local and international outrage over the Hariri killing.
Kanaan also accused the media of damaging relations between the two countries.
He said reports since Hariri's February 14 assassination in a massive bomb blast on the Beirut seafront, had wronged both himself and the former Lebanese premier.
"My testimony ... was to shed the light on an era during which we have served Lebanon. Sadly some media outlets have reported lies to mislead public opinion," he said.
"We have affection and mutual respect for Lebanon ... We have served the interests of Lebanon with dignity," Kanaan said, denying reports in the Lebanese media that he showed the UN investigators cheques paid to him by Hariri.
On July 20, Kanaan was quoted in the Beirut daily As-Safir as saying he had no information on the murder, stressing that military intelligence was only in charge of security for Syrian troops and coordination with Lebanese authorities.
But Kanaan was seen for two decades as the paramount commander to whom Lebanese leaders reported directly on political and security issues.
Named interior minister in October 2004, he served between 1982 and 2003 as Syrian military intelligence chief for Lebanon.
Earlier this year, the US treasury announced it was freezing the assets of Kanaan and his successor as Syria's top official in Lebanon, General Rustom Ghazali, in a move it said was "intended to financially isolate bad actors supporting Syria's efforts to destabilize its neighbors".
The Lebanese Central Bank last month opened up the accounts of both men to the UN investigators.
Also on Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied that his country was involved with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri in a rare interview with CNN.
Assad also denied that he could have ordered such an assassination, saying "this is against our principle and my principle. I would never do it. It's impossible."
Many Lebanese blamed Syria and its Lebanese allies for Hariri's assassination, but Damascus has denied any role.
Assad was quoted as saying that any Syrians who were concluded involvement by the UN investigation committee would be regarded as traitors and charged with treason.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency October 13, 2005)