The political scandal engulfing a high-ranking Chinese politician, Bo Xilai, now includes allegations that his wife has been involved in the murder of a British man who lived in China.
Last November, businessman Neil Heywood was found dead in a Chongquing hotel.
At the time, officials said that Heywood died of “excessive alcohol consumption,” but now, Gu Kailai, wife of suspended politician Bo Xilai, has been detained in connection with Heywood’s death.
Chinese officials have said that Gu Kailai and an employee of her household are suspected of homicide.
Anchor Marco Werman talks with the Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page, who has been following the story, to find out more about who Neil Heywood was.
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Marco Werman: We’re going to zero in further now on the alleged murder victim at the heart of Bo Xili case. His name as we heard was Neil Heywood. The Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page has been reporting on the story.
Jeremy Page: Neil is a British businessman who started out by coming to China in the early 1990′s. He studied a bit of Chinese in Beijing and then he moved up to the northeastern city of Dalian where Bo Xilai was mayor at the time, and seems to have made an approach to Mr. Xilai by just writing to him, offering to help attract foreign investment to the city. From there, he managed to build this relationship with the family, offering them advice, helping to arrange meetings with foreign officials and business people, and also helping them to make arrangements for the education of Bo Xilai’s son, Bo Guaga, in the U.K. where he went to a couple of British private schools and then on to Oxford University.
Werman: Now he was also, I understand, a part time dealer of Aston Martin Sports Cars and he married a Chinese woman. Was there anything suspicious about his background prior to these events in which he died?
Page: Not really, no. He seemed to have been a bit of a “Jack of All Trades.” He had various jobs, he used to turn up at various events around China with Aston Martin Cars, helping to do the marketing for them. He was also doing some due diligence work for an outfit called Hakluyt which is a sort of strategic business intelligence company that was set up by ex-British Intelligence officers. Obviously that suggests something to do with the intelligence world, but they also do a lot of fairly mundane due diligence stuff, just standard credit checks, a little bit of routine corporate investigation for companies that want to just find out more about their business partners in China, so it’s not explicitly suspicious, but from the Chinese point of view, I imagine that the Bo Xilai’s family wouldn’t have been aware that he was also working for this strategic business intelligence company.
Werman: What were the circumstances behind Neil Heywood’s death?
Page: That’s still very, very murky. The Chinese local authorities told British Consular officials down there that were handling the case that he had died of excess alcohol consumption and he was cremated very quickly without an autopsy. At the same time, either they or British officials seemed to, I think Chinese officials, informed Heywood’s family that he died of a heart attack, which is a little odd because normally you have to examine the body to conclude that. Likewise, the explanation that he died of excess alcohol consumption is a little odd because that’s not a clinical cause of death. You would either say he died of alcohol poisoning or heart attack caused by excess alcohol consumption, so possibly it was a combination of the two, but neither explanation is really satisfactory.
Werman: And now Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai, has been detained as a suspect in Heywood’s murder. What is the connection?
Page: Well, she was already married to Bo when he was in Dalian and apparently got to know Neil when they were living in Dalian, and became quite close to him, particularly when he was making arrangements for their son to study in the U.K. At the same time, through the 1990′s, she was doing some work with a company called Horace Consultancy & Investment which was helping to advise companies coming to invest in China, and Heywood was doing similar work around the same time. Whether there was a business relationship between them or not, that’s something that we haven’t been able to establish.
Werman: And so far, that’s all that can be found in terms of connection between Neil Heywood and Gu Kailai?
Page: That’s correct, apart from his own account given to friends about his relationship with the family, including her and it was obviously a bit of a difficult relationship with her, and she was quite suspicious and always worried about someone in the family’s inner circle betraying them.
Werman: Why has she been detained though?
Page: Well, we only have the official statement from the Chinese to go on that and they give a very brief explanation. They said that she and her son had had a close relationship with Heywood, but there had been a falling out over some financial issue, and then they went on to say that she was now a suspect in the case along with an orderly from her household, and that she was now in the hands of judicial authorities.
Werman: The Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page, speaking with us from London. Jeremy, thanks for your time.
Page: You’re welcome.
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