A chronology of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood published by China’s official Xinhua News Agency details the lengths taken to hide his killing and for the first time mentions the role of former Chongqing Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai.
The account published yesterday contains a confession by Bo’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, to charges he helped cover up Heywood’s murder by Bo’s wife Gu Kailai. It describes an episode on Jan. 29 when the “principal person” in charge of Chongqing -- Bo -- slapped Wang in a rage after Wang confronted him about suspicions Gu was involved in the murder. Xinhua’s report doesn’t mention Bo by name.
“The nuggets are the clues which could lead to a Bo Xilai indictment later on,” June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science at the University of Miami who focuses on China, said in a telephone interview. “They have very cleverly left the door open with several phrases.”
Wang’s flight in February to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu -- another crime he confessed to -- set off a chain of events that would see Bo dismissed as Chongqing party boss and suspended from the ruling Politburo in the biggest political shakeup in China in a generation. The scandal surrounding Bo has clouded a once-a-decade leadership transition set to begin in weeks.
In the Xinhua chronology, Wang recounts a conversation he had with Gu in Chongqing on Nov. 14 last year -- the day after Heywood’s death, based on testimony from Gu and Wang.
“When I saw Wang, I told him what happened on the night of the 13th, when I saw Heywood and how I poisoned him,” Xinhua cited Gu as saying. “He told me not to think about this incident, and from now on, this incident had nothing to do with me, and asked me to forget the entire memory. I said then I was worried, and he replied by saying things will be better in a week or two.”
Xinhua said that on Nov. 15, Wang, then Chongqing’s top police official, assigned an officer close to Gu to handle the case, relieving another investigator who was on the scene.
Three days later, Wang called Gu Kailai, reporting to her that Heywood’s body was cremated that day, and telling her that it “turned into blue smoke flying to the west with cranes,” Xinhua said, citing the testimony of Zhang Xiaojun, an orderly in Gu’s home who was convicted last month as an accomplice in the killing.
“I acknowledge the crime, I confess to the crime, I regret the crime,” Xinhua reported Wang as saying at the end of his two-day trial, which ended Sept. 18 in Chengdu. Wang is awaiting a verdict in his case.
“We believe that all is equal before the law and expect a fair verdict from the people’s court,” the Xinhua account quoted a man identified as Wu Qunfang, a resident of Chengdu, as saying. The trial account was published in full in today’s English-language China Daily newspaper.
In August, four Chongqing police officers were convicted of destroying evidence in the case and sentenced to between five and 11 years in prison. Family orderly Zhang was sentenced to nine years in prison and Gu, convicted of killing Heywood, was given a suspended death sentence.
Bo has to date only been accused of violating party discipline. He’s not been seen in public since March.
Gu feared her son’s life was threatened by Heywood after she and Heywood clashed over “issues of monetary gain,” Xinhua reported. Heywood, like Bo and Gu’s son Bo Guagua, was a graduate of the Harrow school in the U.K. and was a longtime acquaintance of the Bo family.
After his removal as police chief, announced on Feb. 2, Wang fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, where he told diplomats that Gu murdered Heywood, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. After a night with American officials that saw the consulate compound ringed by police, Wang turned himself over to government authorities.
The Xinhua account also said Wang took a 2.85 million yuan ($452,000) bribe in 2009 in the form of two Beijing homes from Dalian Shide Group Chairman Xu Ming. Later that year, Wang released three people from custody in Chongqing at Xu’s request, according to the report.
Xu bought a hot air balloon for the city of Dalian in 2000 at Gu’s request and took a ride in one with Gu in the U.K. city of Bournemouth, the Wall Street Journal reported in June. Xu paid for and accompanied Bo Guagua and Gu on a school-hunting trip to the U.K. in the 1990s that cost more than $100,000, the Journal reported, citing a person with knowledge of the trip that it didn’t identify.
Xu was ranked China’s eighth-richest man by Forbes magazine in 2005 with an estimated $1.05 billion of personal wealth. Dalian Shide, which Xu founded in 1992, produces chemicals, provides financial services and also manufactures home appliances. The company in 2000 bought the city’s top tier professional soccer club for 120 million yuan, when Bo was the city’s mayor.
Wang’s relations with Gu began to deteriorate as she became increasingly worried that the murder would be exposed, Xinhua said. She hosted a dinner on Dec. 14 for three of the investigators handling the case who were helping cover up the murder, Xinhua said. Wang’s co-workers came under investigation, furthering a rift with Gu, Xinhua said.
Wang, 52, headed Chongqing’s police force from 2009 until early February. He oversaw a crackdown on gangs that raised the profile of Bo’s “Chongqing model,” with its focus on getting tough on crime and fighting social inequality. The campaign against organized crime, called “da hei,” or “strike black,” was accompanied by allegations of arbitrary arrests and beatings.
— With assistance by Michael Forsythe, and Liza Lin