The wife of Bo Xilai, a high-level Chinese politician, is under investigation for the murder of a British businessman, the state-run Xinhua news service reported late Tuesday, the first official word on the allegations that led to Bo’s removal from office last month. The development casts a grisly pall over a scandal that has shaken the Chinese leadership during a sensitive transition year. The businessman, Neil Heywood, 41, died on Nov. 15 in Chongqing, the southwestern Chinese megalopolis that Bo ran until his March 15 ouster. Heywood’s death had initially been reported as due to alcohol poisoning, but the case is now being reinvestigated, Xinhua reported, and Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, and an aide, Zhang Xiaojun, are suspected of homicide. Heywood had previously been linked with Bo’s family. The Xinhua report noted that Gu and the couple’s son, Bo Guagua, “were on good terms with Heywood” but added “they had conflict over economic interests” without giving details.
Xinhua also announced Tuesday that Bo, 62, has been suspended from his position on China’s 25-member Politburo and the Communist Party Central Committee and is “suspected of being involved in serious discipline violations.” The Politburo seat was Bo’s last remaining high-level post, and his removal paves the way for a Communist Party investigation and possible criminal charges. “China is a socialist country ruled by law, and the sanctity and authority of law shall not be tramped,” the state news agency said. “Whoever has broken the law will be handled in accordance with law and will not be tolerated, no matter who is involved.”
Bo’s dramatic downfall was set in motion in February, when a former deputy suddenly appeared at a U.S. consulate in the city of Chengdu, about 200 miles (320 km) from Chongqing. The deputy, Chongqing’s ex-police chief Wang Lijun, spent an evening in the consulate and was detained by Chinese state security after he left. The Xinhua report confirmed that Wang passed along his suspicions about Heywood’s death to the Americans.
Wang’s trip also forced the usually secretive process of maneuvering for top offices during China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition somewhat into the open. Bo had been seen as a candidate for elevation to the Politburo’s Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body, when it is reshuffled this fall. The son of a prominent Communist Party elder, Bo rose to national prominence on the back of an aggressive campaign against organized crime in Chongqing, which some lawyers say trampled legal protections in an effort to achieve convictions. Bo also pushed a revival of Mao-era culture, including mass singing of “red songs.” But his populist style and harkening back to Maoist campaigns angered some top-level officials. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told a March 14 press conference that Chongqing officials should reflect on the Wang Lijun incident. It was a shot clearly directed at Bo, who was removed from his Chongqing post the next day.