Senior Chinese official commits suicide: reports

BEIJING Fri Jun 8, 2007 5:26am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese official has committed suicide after coming under investigation for economic crimes, overseas media reported on Friday, one of the highest-ranking officials to kill himself in three decades.

Two government sources told Reuters Song Pingshun had died but declined to provide further details. He was 61.

Song, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in the northern port city of Tianjin, was found dead on Wednesday after jumping from Tianjin's CPPCC building, Hong Kong's Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper said.

The Tianjin CPPCC is the top advisory body to the local people's congress, or city council.

The New York-based news portal Duowei (www.dwnews.com) said Song killed himself on Tuesday. It did not elaborate.

If confirmed, Song would be one of the most senior officials to kill himself in three decades, Duowei said.

Song spent almost his entire career in Tianjin. He once served as the city's vice-mayor, police chief and secretary of the Communist Party's Tianjin Political Science and Law Commission, which oversees police, prosecutors and judges.

A spokesman for the Tianjin city government, reached by telephone, would neither confirm nor deny the report.

"I have not been authorized to announce any news," the spokesman said by telephone.

The cabinet spokesman's office in Beijing and the Public Security Ministry also declined to comment.

Song held a rank equivalent to a cabinet minister because the political status of Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing is equivalent to that of a cabinet ministry.

The four cities are directly under the jurisdiction of the cabinet and do not report to the provincial government.

Song's last public appearance was on Sunday when he attended the opening of a museum dedicated to late premier Zhou Enlai in Tianjin. The city's Party boss, Zhang Gaoli, and Mayor Dai Xianglong also attended.

Suicide is not uncommon among Chinese officials targeted in corruption probes as it avoids confiscation of assets and protects families.

The suicide of Beijing vice-mayor Wang Baosen in 1995 led to the downfall months later of then Beijing Party boss Chen Xitong, who also lost his seat in the Party's decision-making Politburo.

In 2005, Wang Wei, a vice mayor of the northeastern city of Jilin, hanged himself after a 10-day government cover-up of a toxic spill. An explosion at a chemical plant poured 100 tonnes of benzene compounds into the Songhua river.

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