Report: UN Hariri probe to name Assad relative
MI chief Asef Shawkat seen as second most powerful man in Syria; Rice, Annan hold surprise meeting.
A UN investigator has named a brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a suspect in the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a German report said on Tuesday.
In another event that indicated the increasing pressure on Syria, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a surprise meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss Syria.
Stern magazine, in extracts from an article due to appear on Thursday, named Syrian military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat, as a suspect in the probe led by chief United Nations investigator Detlev Mehlis.
Shawkat, who is Assad's brother-in-law, is widely seen as the second most powerful man in Syria after Assad.
Mehlis, a German prosecutor, had questioned Shawkat "not as a witness, but as a suspected person", said Stern, without giving the source of its information.
Mehlis is due to present his report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday on the February 14 killings of Hariri and 20 others in a truck bomb blast in Beirut.
Diplomats and Lebanese political sources say they expect Mehlis to name some Syrian officials in his report. But for him to point the finger at a member of Assad's inner circle would be political dynamite.
Assad had appointed Shawkat as military intelligence chief last February. The announcement was made by Syrian officials four days after Hariri's assassination.
The Syrian president said in a CNN interview last week that Syria was not involved in Hariri's death and that he could never have ordered it.
However, if the United Nations concluded Syrians were involved, they would be "traitors" who would face an international court or the Syrian judicial process, he added.
Blaming Syrian officials for the killing would likely intensify U.S. pressure against Damascus and could prompt UN Security Council action.
Stern said that of 10 high-ranking Syrian diplomats and secret service officials questioned by Mehlis, five were considered as suspects in the assassination. They included Rustum Ghazaleh, former Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon.
Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have also been detained since August on Mehlis' recommendation and charged with murder, attempted murder and carrying out a terrorist act.
Rice, Annan discuss SyriaA State Department official said Rice had breakfast with Annan in a quickly-planned meeting. Washington suspects Syria was involved in the February killing and has called for tough action against the Arab state if this is found to be the case.
The State Department official, who asked not to be named according to State Department rules, said Rice also discussed with Annan her trip last week to Central Asia and Europe where Syria and Lebanon were an important focus during her meetings.
Lebanon charges Syrian with murder in Hariri probeIn the meanwhile on Tuesday, Lebanon has charged with murder a key Syrian witness detained in France over the assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, judicial sources said.
French police detained Mohammed Zuhair al-Siddiq, a witness in a UN inquiry into Hariri's February killing, on Sunday on an international warrant.
Lebanese judicial sources said they had asked for Siddiq's detention based on the murder charges because they believed he had an indirect role in Hariri's killing and had misled international investigators.
Siddiq faces the same charges as four pro-Syrian generals detained since August on the recommendation of chief UN investigator Detlev Mehlis and charged with murder, attempted murder and carrying out a terrorist act in connection with Hariri's assassination, they said.
Lebanon has asked that Siddiq be extradited but was awaiting a French decision on the issue, they added.
French judicial sources said on Monday Beirut had 30 days to provide the necessary documents for the extradition request.
When he presents his report to the United Nations this week, Mehlis is expected to implicate Syrian officials in the assassination that plunged Lebanon into its worst security and political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Frozen assetsLebanon's public prosecutor has also asked the central bank to lift its traditional banking secrecy to freeze accounts held by the four generals, judicial and banking sources said.
The central bank declined to comment, but banking sources in Lebanon said it was certain to comply after opening up their accounts and those of several other Syrian and Lebanese figures to investigators in September.
Among them was Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, who was found dead in his office last week, three weeks after he was questioned by the UN team probing Hariri's death.
"They have asked for the accounts of the generals to be frozen and banking secrecy to be lifted awaiting further scrutiny of movements into and out of these accounts as this might help with the investigation," one banking source said.
"I think it is not just the generals. There are others but their names have not come out yet."
Lebanese political sources say Siddiq was one of the leading witnesses in the probe, having said he attended meetings at which Hariri's killing was discussed, but became a suspect when it transpired he had misled investigators.
Lebanese newspapers reported that suspicions had been raised when Siddiq told investigators he was nearby when the bomb blast that killed Hariri and 20 others went off.
Syrian officials have privately said from the start that Siddiq was unreliable and was wanted in his own country on charges of fraud and desertion.
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