The wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai is being held as a prime suspect in the murder of a British businessman, in one of the most sensational scandals to rock China's Communist Party in decades.
The official Xinhua news agency said late Tuesday that Gu Kailai is being investigated for the murder of Neil Heywood, who was found dead in his hotel room in the southwest city of Chongqing in November. The report also linked the case to an apparent attempt by Chonqing's police chief to defect at a U.S. diplomatic mission in February.
The announcement came as state media reported that Bo, formerly a rising star in Chinese politics, had been stripped of his high-profile Communist Party posts because of “serious disciplinary violations.”
The report, which was also broadcast on Chinese state television, said Bo's wife and an “orderly” in his home have been transferred to judicial authorities on “suspected crime of intentional homicide” in the death of Heywood.
The death of the 41-year-old British national was initially ruled as alcohol poisoning, though his friends and family said he rarely drank.
The government statement Tuesday said that while Bo's wife and son were on “good terms” with Heywood, they had been engaged in an escalating “conflict over economic interests,” fueling suspicion that the death was related to a business deal gone bad.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, who had urged Chinese authorities to reinvestigate the death, cautiously welcomed the news.
“I decided a few weeks ago to ask China to reopen its investigations into the death of Neil Heywood. So I'm pleased they are doing as we asked them to do. And we now look forward to seeing the outcome of these investigations.”
Bo was removed from his post last month as Communist Party leader of Chongqing after his longtime police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate in Chengdu, reportedly to seek asylum.
Xinhua's report on Tuesday said Wang revealed details of Heywood's death during the visit to the consulate. Several Western newspapers have quoted unnamed Chinese officials as saying Wang had evidence that Heywood was poisoned by Bo's wife.
Bo and his wife, formerly a powerful lawyer, have disappeared from public view since the scandal erupted. Just days before his dismissal as Chonqing party chief, Bo fiercely dismissed accusations of wrongdoing by his wife, saying unnamed people were pouring “filth on my family.”