Photo: Sky News Screenshot
The sudden ousting of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai earlier this month has today focused much of the UK press onto China — in particular the mysterious links between Neil Heywood, a British man with links to both Bo Xilai and the security industries, who was found dead in his apartment in Chongqing last November.Heywood’s death was described by police as a result of “excessive alcohol consumption”, though his family was told it was a heart attack and no autopsy was performed before he was cremated.
However, greater suspicion was aroused this weekend when the WSJ reported that Wang Lijun, the former Chongqing police chief who reportedly sought refuge in February in the US Consulate in Chengdu. Wang had reportedly sought US help after falling out with Bo when discussing whether Heywood had been poisoned, and reportedly says that Heywood had been involved in a business dispute with Gu Kailai, Bo’s wife.
Wang has since been taken into custody by the Chinese government.
Heywood’s background only adds to the intrigue. The Telegraph describes him as “Immaculately dressed, often in cream linen, […] the epitomy of a British gentleman abroad” before going on to detail his links to a company called Hakluyt, a corporate intelligence firm founded by former MI6 officers.
Hakluyt seem to be commenting little on the case, and says that Heywood was not working for them in Chongqing. Heywood had a variety of jobs, frequently using his Mandarin skills and connections to help enable deals. However, his work for Hakluyt could be different — to a certain extent, investigating the corrupt practices of competitors.
It’s here where the link to Bo becomes relevant. Bo was a renowned anti-corruption crusader, but to his critics his methods — and popularity — went too far. He was officially dismissed for trying to stop an investigating (started Wang) into his wife’s business transactions.
Bo’s family have confirmed they know Heywood, the FT reports, and some reports suggest Heywood was helping to arrange the children’s UK educations.
But some question whether the investigation is anymore than smoke and mirrors.
The UK Consulate in Chongqing has reportedly chained up its doors, refusing to answer any more media requests, and his family won’t talk, with his mother apparently telling reporters, “My son died of a heart attack. I don’t know why there’s all these rumours.”
The Telegraph raises the possibility that the campaign could ultimately be a smear campaign against Bo, a still popular and charismatic politician.
However it appears any answers won’t be found anytime soon — searches for Heywood’s name appear to have been banned on Chinese microblogging sites at the time of writing.
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