Wife of disgraced Chinese politician is charged with Briton's murder
The wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has been charged with murdering the British businessman Neil Heywood, state media announced yesterday, adding that protecting her son appeared to be the motive.
Gu Kailai (53) who is married to Mr Bo, the former party secretary of Chongqing and a member of the Communist party's Politburo, could face the death penalty after being formally accused, together with Zhang Xiaojun, a member of her household staff, of poisoning the 41-year-old.
In the first official comment on the case since April, the state Xinhua newswire announced that an investigation had found "irrefutable and substantial" evidence of Ms Gu's involvement in the businessman's murder. It said she and her Harrow-educated son, Bo Guagua, who has recently been studying at Harvard, had come into "conflict" with Mr Heywood over their "economic interests".
However, in the latest twist to the biggest political scandal to hit China in decades, the statement added that, as a result of the row, Ms Gu had begun to fear for her son's safety.
Ms Gu, a former lawyer, was detained in mid-April and has not been seen since. According to Chinese legal procedure, the trial should occur in a maximum of six weeks after charges are laid. It was not clear from the statement, however, when exactly Ms Gu and Mr Zhang were charged. One possible date for the trial is August 7, according to a "family lawyer".
The timing of the trial could clear the air ahead of the once-in-a-decade transition to a new set of Chinese leaders this autumn. The case has split the top leadership of the Communist party, and has cast a shadow over the handover.
The charges against Mrs Gu come shortly after Patrick Devillers, a French architect and close associate, returned to China from Cambodia saying he would co-operate with the Chinese investigation.
Mr Bo and Mrs Gu's 24-year-old son, an only child, is thought to have remained in America after graduating from his master's degree in public policy at Harvard earlier this year.
Mr Bo, once thought to be in the running for elevation to the all-powerful nine-man Politburo Standing Committee this autumn, is also in detention, while being investigated for "a severe breach of party discipline". He could subsequently face criminal charges.
Mr Heywood was found dead in a room at the Lucky Holiday Hotel in Chongqing, last November. He is believed to have been poisoned with cyanide.
An old Harrovian, Mr Heywood was an experienced China hand who had acted for years as an intermediary between Western and Chinese clients.
He is believed to have been a member of Mr Bo and Ms Gu's inner circle.
The authorities in Chongqing originally attributed his death to excessive drinking, but a scandal unfolded after Wang Lijun, the city's police chief, fled to the American consulate in Chengdu, a city not far from Chongqing, and divulged details of the crime.
Until yesterday, sources with knowledge of the investigation suggested that Ms Gu had killed Mr Heywood because he had threatened to reveal her attempts to move substantial sums of money offshore.
The change in narrative may be part of an effort to paint Ms Gu, who has a known history of mental illness, as paranoid and unstable; possibly a mitigating factor in her defence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)