Neil Heywood, the U.K. businessman whose death in China is at the center of the scandal that brought down Politburo member Bo Xilai, wasn’t a British spy, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
“Given the intense interest in this case, it is, exceptionally, appropriate for me to confirm that Mr. Heywood was not an employee of the British government in any capacity,” Hague wrote yesterday in a letter to Richard Ottaway, the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in London and published on the panel’s website. “Mr. Heywood was only an occasional contact of the embassy, attending some meetings in connection with his business. He was not known to the consulate-general” in Chongqing, where he died.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has been pressing China to investigate the circumstances of the death, over which Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo, the former Chongqing Communist Party secretary, was arrested on suspicion of murder. Britain was originally being told Heywood died from alcohol poisoning.
The ouster of Bo and the arrest of his wife have heightened scrutiny of the family’s business interests and sparked China’s deepest political crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen uprising.
Ottaway had written to ask Hague April 19 if Heywood supplied the British consulate or embassy with information on a formal or informal basis and why ministers were not informed in January of rumors surrounding Heywood’s death.
Hague said yesterday that those reports were “uncorroborated,” pointing out that almost 6,000 British nationals die abroad each year.
Speaking in Parliament last week, Hague called on China to ensure that its probe into the death of uncovers the truth and justice is done.
Heywood, 41, died in Chongqing on Nov. 14. Chinese authorities said April 10 that Gu was suspected of murder. She and her son, Bo Guagua, had a “conflict over economic interests” with Heywood, the official Xinhua News Agency reported the same day. Bo Xilai was suspended from his top Communist Party positions on suspicion of committing “serious discipline violations,” Xinhua said.
In his first public comments since those events, Bo Guagua denied reports in newspapers including the Wall Street Journal and Daily Telegraph that he led a lavish lifestyle, which included driving a red Ferrari and expensive schooling beyond the means of his father’s salary as a party official. The 24-year-old Harvard Kennedy School student made the comments in a statement published on April 24 in the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.