China Central Television reported that the November death of Neil Heywood, a family friend of ousted Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, has been ruled a homicide. Bo’s wife, Bo-Gu Kailai, and family aide Zhang Xiaojun have been arrested as part of the investigation, CCTV reported.
Meanwhile, Bo has been stripped of his seats in the Communist Party’s Central Committee and Politburo — the nation’s ruling organs — for an unspecified “serious breach of regulations,” the network announced in a late-night report.
Bo was once seen as one of the rising stars of Chinese politics. But he was sacked as the Communist Party chief in Chongqing, southwestern China’s biggest city, in March after a scandal involving a deputy who helped lead an aggressive crackdown on organized crime.
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The state news agency Xinhua said Bo-Gu and the couple’s son were “on good terms” with Heywood, who was found dead in his hotel room in November at age 41. “However, they had conflict over economic interests, which had been intensified,” Xinhua reported, citing unspecified Chinese authorities.
Both Bo-Gu and Zhang “have been transferred to judicial authorities,” Xinhua reported.
“Whoever has broken the law will be handled in accordance with law and will not be tolerated, no matter who is involved,” the agency quoted unnamed senior officials as saying.
Heywood’s death was originally blamed on alcohol poisoning, according to media reports. But the case was reopened after Bo’s deputy, Wang Lijun, sought refuge at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February. After leaving the consulate, Wang was taken into custody for entering the diplomatic post without authorization and is believed to remain in custody.
The son of a Maoist-era revolutionary hero, Bo rose through China’s political ranks and was appointed Communist Party secretary of Chongqing, a city of more than 30 million people. He was a polarizing figure in Chinese politics but had been seen as a future contender for top leadership roles.
Bo launched a heavy-handed crusade against organized crime with Wang, his police chief and eventual right-hand man. But since his fall from grace, critics came forward to recount tales of heavy-handed treatment and even outright torture as part of the campaign.
Beijing-based lawyer Li Zhuang told CNN in March that he defended an alleged gang member in 2009 and discovered that his client had been repeatedly hung from a ceiling by police over a period of eight days. When he tried to expose the abuse, he said, he was arrested and tortured himself, then sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for fabricating evidence and inciting witnesses.
“Their barbaric kind of law enforcement or, rather, their trampling of the law was against everything a modern civilization stands for,” Li said.
The British government had sought a new investigation into the death of Heywood, who was married to a Chinese woman and had lived in China for more than a decade. The British strategic information consultancy Hakluyt and Co., a company formed by former officers of the spy agency MI6, has said it and other Western companies had sought Heywood’s advice on doing business in China.
Heywood’s close relationship with the Bo family had been documented by local and international news outlets. In a 2009 interview with a Beijing newspaper, he praised the “extraordinary talent” of Bo’s younger son, describing how the teenager excelled academically and socially at a prestigious British boarding school.