UK businessman ‘poisoned’ in China scandal

New sources come forward to claim Neil Heywood was murdered by ex-Communist Party official’s wife over business deal.

China’s Communist Party suspended ex-politician Bo Xilai and named his wife, Gu Kailai, a murder suspect  [Reuters]

The British businessman whose murder has caused political upheaval in China was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by a Chinese official’s wife to move money abroad, two sources with knowledge of the police investigation have said.

The new information, which came to light on Monday, was the first time a specific motive has been revealed for Neil Heywood’s murder last November, a death which ended Chinese leader Bo Xilai’s hopes of emerging as a top central leader and threw off balance the Communist Party’s looming leadership succession.

Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, asked Heywood late last year to move a large sum of money abroad, and she became outraged when he demanded a larger cut of the money than she had expected due to the size of the transaction, the sources said.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Hong Kong, described the new allegations as “an incredible turn of events”.

“The sources are saying it all went wrong over a business deal with Mr Heywood, who had been a family friend going back to the 1990s. The reported deal occurred last year over the transfer of a large sum of money. The deal went wrong when Mr Heywood asked for a larger cut when he realised the amount in the transfer,” he said.

“This enraged Mrs Gu who resorted to poisoning Mr Heywood, according to the new sources.”

‘Too greedy’ 

Both sources have spoken to investigators in Chongqing, the southwestern Chinese city where Heywood was killed and where Bo had cast himself as a crime-fighting Communist Party leader. Bo has since been sacked over the scandal.

Gu is in police custody on suspicion of committing or arranging Heywood’s murder, though no details of the motive or the crime itself have been publicly released, other than a general comment from Chinese state media that he was killed after a financial dispute.

The sources have close ties to Chinese police and said they were given details of the investigation.

“Heywood told her that if she thought he was being too greedy, then he didn’t need to become involved and wouldn’t take
a penny of the money, but he also said he could also expose it,” the first source said.

The sources said police suspect the 41-year-old was poisoned by a drink. They and other sources with access to official information say they believe Heywood was killed at a secluded hilltop retreat, the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel, which is also marketed as the Lucky Holiday Hotel.

The sources said Gu and Heywood, who had lived in China since the early 1990s, shared a long and close personal relationship, but were not romantically involved.

‘Deep’ relationship

It was not possible to get official confirmation of the case police are building against Gu. Some of Bo’s leftist supporters have said the case could be a campaign to discredit him.

Bo has not been seen since appearing at parliament in March, when he held a news conference decrying the “filth” being poured on his family.

Heywood had spent his last week in Chongqing in Nan’an district, an area politically loyal to Bo, and stayed at two hotels: the Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel and the Sheraton hotel.

Heywood’s falling-out with Gu followed a period in which she had grown distant from her ambitious, perpetually busy husband and she had turned to Heywood as a soulmate, sources said.

“Bo and Gu Kailai had not been a proper husband and wife for years … Gu Kailai and Heywood had a deep personal relationship and she took the break between them deeply to heart,” said Wang Kang, a well-connected Chongqing businessman who has learned some details of the case from Chinese officials.

“Her mentality was ‘You betrayed me, and so I’ll get my revenge’,” Wang said in his office, decorated with pictures of himself meeting senior officials, including Bo’s late father,the revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo, a comrade of Mao Zedong.

Finances questioned
Heywood got to know the powerful family when Bo Xilai was mayor of Dalian in the 1990s. Heywood helped with getting the couple’s son, Bo Guagua, into an exclusive British school,said one of the sources with police contacts.

The scandal over Heywood’s death broke in February when Bo’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a US consulate after he had confronted Bo with allegations of Gu’s involvement. He spent about 24 hours inside the consulate before he left into the hands of Chinese central government authorities.

Bo was stripped of all his party positions last week, ending his bid to join the upper echelons of the Chinese leadership at a Party Congress late this year, and opening the door to jockeying among rivals to get a place in the new lineup.

It was not immediately clear how Heywood would have helped Gu shift large sums of money offshore, though China’s capital controls pose a formidable barrier to anyone trying to move large sums of yuan out of the country.

Chinese leaders’ salaries are not extravagant and there have been questions about how Bo managed to fund the expensive Western schooling and lifestyle for his son, Bo Guagua, who also studied at Oxford university and is enrolled at Harvard.

Bo said in March the schools were funded by scholarships.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies