Friday, April 20, 2012

Officials attempted cover up of Heywood murder

It seems clear that the British businessman Neil Heywood was murdered in China last year, but it has now been reported that the coverup of the incident began soon after his body was found in a Nanshan Lijing Holiday Hotel room in Chongqing.


According the BBC reporter Martin Patience, police discovering Heywood's body immediately realised it was murder and feared they were themselves at risk after coming to the conclusion that the city governor's wife might be involved. The latest revelations were revealed by a former senior People's Daily journalist, Han Pingzao, who spoke to the BBC.

"Terrified of the politician" three of the investigators asked to resign, meanwhile the chief of police Wang Lijun approached the Chongqing head and informed him of his wife's possible involvement.


''Bo Xilai was shocked when he heard the details,'' Han said. ''He started sweating profusely.'' Despite apparent reassurances, Wang Lijun felt at threat himself and on 6th February a little over 2 months after the murder, he fled to the US consulate in nearby Chengdu, where he spent much of the night before eventually giving himself up to authorities. It is believed that Wang divulged the details of Heywood's death to the US staff and may even have tried to obtain asylum.


The so-called Wang Lijun incident followed his demotion. Only four days earlier Wang confirming he had fallen out with the city's Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai and he was no longer the Chongqing police chief. One month later Beijing sacked Bo Xilai from his post, but it was sometime later before it was officially announced that Neil Heywood had been murdered and that Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai was a likely suspect. That announcement came on 10th of April nearly two weeks after the UK government said it had asked China to re-examine Heywood's death.

Scandal & rumours

The scandal of Bo Xilai's downfall, the hedonistic lifestyle of his son [NYT] and the implication of his wife in murder has sent shockwaves through the communist party. In a damage limitation exercise authorities say they will properly investigate the death, but they have also sought to limit the amount of discussion, both online and in the state media. State censors have clamped down on mentions of the case in an attempt to stop the flow of what it called rumours. However some of China's microbloggers saw the media announcement of the murder as ironic. "Wow the rumours are true," some microbloggers exclaimed, after weeks of speculation surround Bo Xilai and his wife. Many were however incredulous of the slow response from official media and scorned at a message on Sina Weibo from Xinhua which quoted a Chongqing Normal University professor which read, "The central government didn't skirt the incident, and published information in a timely, transparent and open manner." [Atlantic].


Along with Gu Kailai, authorities have arrested at least 39 people over the death of Neil Heywood. They are thought to be held, alongside Bo Xilai, in the seaside town of Beidaihe, a favourite retreat for Communist party leaders.

Wang Kang, a well-connected independent scholar and public figure in Chongqing, and who is the only person with inside information on Bo's removal from power to go on the record, said some of the detainees were close to the former Chongqing leader. "The detainees include Xu Ming, who had a very special relationship with Bo, and some of the people who worked with him," said Wang Kang.

"The detainees are mainly people from Dalian and other places, not from Chongqing," he added. Xu is one of China's richest men, a billionaire who heads the Dalian Shide industrial conglomerate. The 41-year-old has apparently not been seen at the company since mid-March.

One of the people in custody is Xia Deling, the former party chief of Nan'an district in Chongqing, the area in which Heywood's body was discovered, on 15th November last year. Xia is rumoured to have supplied the cyanide that killed the British businessman. However, Wang Kang has suggested that this is unlikely. "Xia Deling was promoted from the countryside to his post in Nan'an, skipping up two ranks, so he was very loyal. But I do not think he would have personally obtained the poison," he said.


According to the initial investigation, Neil Heywood was slipped cyanide after an "economic" dispute arose with Gu Kailai. It has been suggested that the two quarrelled over his commission for helping her transfer a large, but undisclosed, sum of money overseas. There are also unconfirmed reports and a swirl of rumours concerning an alleged affair.

Meanwhile Bo Guagua's whereabouts remain unknown after apparently being taken into police custody earlier in the week. There had been speculation that the 24-year-old son of Bo Xilai might seek asylum. The Daily Telegraph reported that Bo Guagua may have sought protection from US authorities, although the FBI declined to confirm an officer who was seen escorting him from his flat was one of their agents.

However at a press briefing this week Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the US Department of State said, "We've had inquiries about his son. As far as we know, there's nothing to those reports. I can recommend you contact local authorities, but as far as we know, there's nothing to those reports. He remains at school at Harvard."

At the same press briefing Toner refused to answer questions relating to Wang Lijun's whereabouts, referring reporters to the Chinese Government. Of what had been discussed at the consulate that February night, Toner was also far from forthcoming. "He was there, I believe, on Monday, February 6th and Tuesday, February 7th, and left of his own volition. But I can't talk about the contents of that meeting," he said.

In China, Heywood's wife is said to be fearful for her life and is reported to be seeking asylum. However it is believed authorities are preventing her from straying too far and keeping foreign media away [Telegraph]. Meanwhile the Foreign Office is not thought to be offering assistance to LuLu Heywood at the moment, and she may not qualify for permanent British residency [Telegraph].

The man that made deals may have seen things were becoming dangerous and apparently sought to protect himself by stashing Bo Xilai's financial dealings with his lawyers in Britain [Telegraph].

This was not enough to save him however as henchmen closely connected to Bo or his wife moved against the dealmaker. While much has been dug up by foreign journalists, little of the detail has been made public in China, and authorities there have revealed very little. How open a full investigation is, remains to be seen, but from what is known will be highly damaging to the CPC especially in a year of transition.

More reports: BBC / Telegraph / Daily Mail 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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