The gunshot with which J. Clifford Baxter apparently killed himself has reverberated across the nation this weekend, dramatically raising the political and corporate stakes at the core of the widening Enron scandal. Baxter's car was parked at the side of a road less than 5km from his home when his body was found in the early hours of Friday. The doors were locked. 'There was no sign of foul play,' said police spokeswoman Patricia Whitty. A solid, once ambitious executive, prone to depression in recent months, Baxter, 43, had retired in May to spend more time with his family, fed-up with the accounting squabbles engulfing the leadership of the energy giant he served as vice-chairman. Baxter had proved something of a whistle-blower, having raised concerns to fellow executives about the firm's complex accounting practices used to hide losses across a web of subsidiaries. Of particular concern to Baxter were assets purchased by a Cayman Island subsidiary, LJM - transactions later revised when it was discovered the group's profits had been overstated by US$480 million (HK$3.7 billion). That admission was soon followed by bankruptcy. Yet neither those actions nor his sudden retirement liberated him from the pressures swirling about the company's leadership. He was one of a handful of senior executives now being sought by both federal criminal investigators and congressional researchers. His name was included in the list of 29 senior officials and directors targeted with a civil lawsuit from shareholders who lost billions when Enron collapsed late last year in America's biggest corporate bankruptcy. In actions matching many of his peers', Baxter sold some US$35 million in shares shortly before the firm's plunge on Wall Street - a sell-off made in the face of a freeze on the stocks of regular workers. Hundreds of employees lost their retirement funds as a result. Like other executives, he had also made political donations. Just like the firm itself, Baxter's US$14,270 donation during the 2000 election went mostly to the Republican Party of President George W. Bush. A suicide note next to his body, together with a .38-calibre revolver and his wallet, on the front seat of his new Mercedes may provide some clues to a scandal that has so far raised more questions than answers. 'As tragic as it may be, there are an awful lot of people who want to get hold of that document,' one congressional investigator said. 'The interest in this case is growing by the day . . . the Enron case is now out of control.' Baxter's apparent suicide adds a tragic human dimension to a scandal that broaches some of the hottest issues in American public life - the buying of political influence and creative 'voodoo' accounting by public companies to hide losses, overstate revenue and dodge taxes. One of America's 'Big Five' law firms, Arthur Andersen, has admitted that thousands of key Enron documents have been destroyed. Eleven panels of lawmakers are now scrutinising the collapse, on top of FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations. There are probes over Enron's links to the White House, calls for tighter auditing and accounting rules, and fresh efforts to get the cash out of politics. The latter could prove one of the most painful for Washington to grasp. One analysis of political donations suggests that of 248 senators and congressmen, 212 have received donations from Enron and Andersen in the recent past. Amid all the intrigue, Baxter's widow and two young children are in mourning inside their house in a plush Houston suburb. The couple had been hoping eventually to live aboard their 22-metre luxury yacht Tranquillity. Meanwhile, in Washington, the questions have only just begun.